Letter urges feds to act on horrible year for La. environment


The best thing you can say about the state of environmental affairs in Louisiana in 2012 is that there’s been nothing of the horribly catastrophic nature of the Deepwater Horizon fiasco two years ago, which spoiled the Gulf of Mexico for years to come. (Although it is worth noting that there’s still nearly three months left until 2012.) The bad news is that the air that we breathe in Louisiana and the water that we drink has instead been slowly dying a death of a thousand cuts.

Did you know that along the state’s so-called “Cancer Alley,” the thick concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants, there are as many as 10 noteworthy accidents, on average, every single day? Over the last few months, we’ve told you about some of the most egregious cases. The sinkhole in Bayou Corne, where state officials were flummoxed despite weeks of tremors and bubbling gases — even after the Texas Brine Co. warned the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality that there might be a problem with its salt cavern. The chemical plant in Plaquemines Parish where DEQ officials insisted there was no danger after intense flooding from Hurricane Isaac — even as TV helicopters captured a toxic trail of pollution. The gas leak from the ExxonMobil plant in Baton Rouge that the state agency initially insisted was minimal, when it later came out that 14 tons were spewed into the city’s air.

These were just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve told you in earlier posts about the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a remarkable group of citizens and activists who do a better job keeping of track of what’s really happening environmentally in the state than the government officials who are supposed to be regulating the industry. Recently, Anna Hrybyk — the program manager for the Bucket Brigade — fired off a letter that she delivered to Mathy Stanislaus, the EPA’s deputy administrator for solid waste and emergency response. It chronicled some 14 major environmental mishaps that have occurred in Southwestern Louisiana this year, including the ones mentioned above.

In addition, Hrybyk brings up cases such as the Shell chemical plant in Norco, which spewed benzene, butadiene, carbon monoxide, ethylene, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxide, propylene, sulfur dioxide, xylene, and other volatile organic compounds for 24 hours after a lightning strike, even as the DEQ insisted there was no problem. The DEQ even ignored a leak of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic substance, from a Honeywell plant in Baton Rouge just two miles from its headquarters. Sun Drilling in Belle Chasse released a vapor cloud of divinylbenzene affecting hundreds of residents living within 2 miles of the facility, yet DEQ ignored the complaints of scores of local residents who complained of toxic smells and burining skin.

The letter notes:

Of even greater concern is the LDEQ’s propensity to declare to the public that none of these accidents pose any danger to human health or property.  The Louisiana Bucket Brigade feels that these statements are inaccurate and place the public at greater risk because:

  • Monitoring has never been conducted exactly at the time of peak exposure or any time period even close to the peak exposure.
  • LDEQ never shares with the public elevated levels of chemicals that were found in their sampling unless you submit a public records request.
  • It is not made transparent the exact times and locations of the peaks and valleys in the monitoring data, indicating communities most impacted by acute chemical exposure, unless you submit a public records request.

The Bucket Brigade asks for two things that it — along with me and others who care about the environment — has been seeking for a long time now. The most important is to take away DEQ’s authority to administer the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Emergency Response programs. The other is that “Risk Management Plan inspections be conducted for all chemical plants and refineries in the path of Hurricane Isaac, particularly Stolthaven Chemical Plant Braithwaite, Phillips 66 Refinery Belle Chasse, Chalmette Refining, Shell Chemical and Motiva Refinery Norco, Valero Meraux and Valero Norco to ensure that they are prepared to prevent future risks.”

This is the minimum that the EPA can do.  As the Bucket Brigade’s Hrybyk points out in her outstanding letter, the DEQ’s bungles, or its corruption, or worse, isn’t just threatening the health and safety of Louisiana’s residents, but it has reached the point where it is eroding trust in government. And this state has environmental problems that won’t be solved unless we can all work together.

To read the full letter from Anna Hrybyk of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to EPA officials, please check out: http://labucketbrigade.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/letter-i-delivered-to-mathy-stanislaus-epa-deputy-administrator-for-solid-waste-and-emergency-response/

Check out my Aug. 13 post about DEQ;s incompetence at the Bayou Corne sinkhole: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/incompetent-louisiana-regulators-knew-of-risk-at-sinkhole-site-since-early-2011/

To read from July 23 about DEQ’s bungling of the Braithwaite chemical spill after Hurricane Isaac, check out: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/louisiana-deq-bungles-a-toxic-nightmare-from-hurricane-isaac/

To catch up with DEQ’s mishandling of toxic air pollution by ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, go to: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/pollution-fighters-catch-exxonmobil-in-a-baton-rouge-big-lie/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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