[StBernard] Louisiana DEQ investigating release of white powder that coated parts of St. Bernard Parish

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Sep 8 08:54:15 EDT 2010

Louisiana DEQ investigating release of white powder that coated parts of St.
Bernard Parish
Published: Tuesday, September 07, 2010, 6:14 PM Updated: Tuesday,
September 07, 2010, 6:17 PM
Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune

The state Department of Environmental Quality has begun a required
investigation into the release of 2,000 pounds of a white powdery substance
across St. Bernard Parish Monday morning, after a refinery lost power and
spewed the material.

The substance, described by the refinery officials as spent catalyst, is a
by-product of the oil refining process. Catalysts are used widely in
petroleum refineries and other chemical plants to speed up chemical
reactions or other processes to create the end product. Spent catalysts are
the remnants of that process.

Chalmette Refining LLC, which has a refinery off St. Bernard Highway in
Chalmette, said the release came after the refinery lost power at around 2
a.m. Monday, forcing the shutdown of several units at the plant.

The St. Bernard Parish government and fire department told residents they
could clean the product themselves off cars and homes. But the official
material data safety sheet about the catalyst, which was submitted to state
and parish officials after the release, recommends using rubber gloves and
protective safety glasses when handling the product.

The safety sheet also notes that "If clothing or footwear become
contaminated with the product, remove it and completely decontaminate it
before re-use, or discard it."

Acute exposure to the product can result in eye and skin irritation,
according to the safety sheet, and if inhaled in larger amounts it can cause
respiratory problems.

The EPA also lists some spent catalysts as hazardous wastes that must be
disposed of under strict guidelines.

According to the safety sheet, the largest component of the spent catalyst
is kaolin, a naturally occurring clay-like substance. There are small
amounts of more hazardous ingredients, including titanium oxide. But the
safety sheet notes that health risks from the materials would come after
long-term, chronic exposure.

The St. Bernard Parish Fire Department mapped the affected area as
stretching from eastern sections of Arabi, east to Paris Road and north up
to about Genie Street.
Will Hinson, the public affairs manager for Chalmette Refining, did not
return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The company has contracted with an insurance claims management firm to work
with residents, and has set up a claims number at 1.877.657.2833.

Anne Rolfes, the founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which
has criticized practices by Chalmette Refining and other refineries in the
region, said she was most concerned that the refinery did not have a better
backup power system to prevent outages like the one that caused the problem.

"This fits into the larger framework of emergency response," Rolfes said.
"They're just not as prepared as they ought to be."

She also said it was "absurd" that a spokesman for Chalmette Refining said
in previous news reports about the incident that the material was safe for
residents, but that he did not know what was in it.


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