The Advocate (Baton Rouge): Report spells out chemical escapes
If there was a prison in the neighborhood and an inmate escaped, the community would be alarmed, said Mark Milligan, president of the Community Empowered for Change group in Baton Rouge.
“Chemicals are escaping from this place all the time, but no one is alarmed,” Milligan said during a news conference Monday near ExxonMobil Refinery Baton Rouge held to release a new refinery accident report.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, released the report Monday that compiles refinery pollution releases for the four year period, 2005 through 2008. The report focuses on 10 of the largest refineries in the state including ExxonMobil Refinery in Baton Rouge.
The report uses information about pollution releases self-reported by the refineries to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The total pounds of material released by the 10 refineries during the four years of the report was 18.5 million pounds, according to the report.
Several refinery representatives said the amounts listed in the Louisiana Bucket Brigade don’t seem to match up with what they reported to DEQ.
However, Sonyja Thomas, who lives near ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge and is vice president of Community Empowered for Change, said she’s been working for five or six years to get the refinery to reduce the amount it releases.
She moved back to Baton Rouge after living out of state and started experiencing health problems, such as sinus problems, once she and her mother moved into their home near the Baton Rouge refinery.
The report is part of a larger effort called the “Refinery Efficiency Initiative.” The goal is to reduce the number of accidents and the amount of pollution released, said Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade executive director.
The report shows that from 2005 through 2008 there were 456 accidents reported at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge refinery which released a total of 3.4 million pounds and 35,610 gallons of pollution.
As the refinery with the most production in the report, it’s not surprising that ExxonMobil Baton Rouge had more accidents than other refineries, Rolfes said. It is surprising that other refineries with less production reported releasing more pollution, she said.
For example, Chalmette Refining in St. Bernard Parish reported releasing 6.2 million pounds and 11.6 million gallons of pollution during the same period, according to the report. Most of the 11.6 million gallons of liquid released occurred in one instance in 2008 before Hurricane Gustav.
Will Hinson, spokesman for Chalmette Refining, said the 11 million gallons released was the amount of rainfall that fell on the plant during Hurricane Gustav. There was a mandatory evacuation called that shut down processes at the facility, including wastewater treatment, he said.
A bypass was opened to allow rainwater to drain from facility into the Mississippi River to keep the refinery and other facilities from flooding during the storm, Hinson said. Reporting how much rain fell on the plant that was not routed to the wastewater treatment plant is mandatory because it didn’t go through a treatment process, Hinson said.
Robert Calmus, communications manager with Marathon Petroleum Co., LLC, said staff members were still going through the information released on the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Web site.
“What was released and what DEQ had don’t jibe,” he said.
State Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Rodney Mallett said department staff members are also going through the report. Although the information came from DEQ files, some of the numbers don’t seem to match up and workers are trying to determine why, he said.
For example, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade had 193 accidents reported by ExxonMobil Baton Rouge last year, but DEQ only shows 174, Mallett said. In addition, the report said some of the accidents had no follow up or explanation, but DEQ records show that there were follow up reports filed, he said. Mallett said DEQ looks forward to working with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to make sure both group’s numbers match.
In conjunction with the report’s release, representatives from state refineries were asked to participate in a roundtable discussion early next year with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade with help from EPA, Rolfes said.
As of Monday, representatives at six of the 17 refineries in the state said they would participate, others needed more information while others declined, said Anna Hrybyk, Louisiana Bucket Brigade program manager.
* ON THE INTERNET:
10 of Louisiana’s largest refineries
1. CITGO Petroleum Corp.
3. Exxon Mobil
4. Motiva Enterprises
5. Motiva Enterprises
6. Murphy Oil Corp.
8. Chalmette Refining
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