Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Re: LDEQ’s inadequate response to chemical
emergencies poses serious dangers to the public; Renewed request to revoke
Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Environmental Integrity Project are renewing
our petition to the EPA to revoke the LDEQ’s authority to manage the Clean Air
Act program due to the frequency of accidents at petrochemical facilities
happening in our area. Each of these
accidents releases enormous amounts of hazardous pollution that pose risks to
the health and safety of the communities we advocate for. As of today, we still have not received a
response to our petition, filed on December 14, 2011.
in the first half of 2012, we have seen four major chemical emergencies in the
90-mile stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge:
March 22, 2012 - A tank explodes at Westlake
Chemical in Geismar, releasing vinyl chloride and chlorine. Even though the tank exploded at 8:30
A.M., EPA did not start air monitoring until that afternoon. Because of wind conditions, the Modeste
community, across the river in Acension Parish, was at the greatest risk
of exposure. Notwithstanding these
conditions, the Geismar community was required to shelter-in-place, while
the Modeste community was not even notified of the potential danger of
exposure to hazardous air pollution.
May 8, 2012 - Shell Chemical in
Norco is struck by lightning and flares for over 24 hours, releasing
benzene, butadiene, carbon monoxide, ethylene, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen
oxide, propylene, sulfur dioxide, xylene, and other volatile organic
compounds. LDEQ air monitors arrive
on the scene 12 hours after the fact. Despite their tardiness and failure to collect representative data,
the agency publicly stated that the release posed no danger to the
May 10, 2012 - Westlake
Chemical suffers a power outage in the same unit as the March accident,
releasing more vinyl chloride and sending three workers to the hospital
for inhalation injuries.
May 15, 2012 - Honeywell in
Baton Rouge leaks hydrofluoric acid. There is no LDEQ presence at the scene even though the LDEQ
Headquarters are less than two miles from the plant.
list is not comprehensive and does not include the chronic accidents that occur
at petrochemical plants in the region. According
to the National Response Center, there are approximately 10 per day all over
the state. This pattern is of great
concern, especially as hurricane season approaches.
more troublesome is the LDEQ’s propensity to consistently declare to the public
that these accidents pose no danger, despite health impacts suffered and
reported to the agency. According to
LDEQ, the agency statements are based on their own air monitoring results
conducted at the scene. We have little
confidence in their air monitoring.
LDEQ refuses to share key
information about their monitoring efforts following an industrial
accident with the community on a timely basis. Instead, the agency requires a community
to submit a public records request to find out about: 1) the location of
the air monitors, 2) the pollutants measured, 3) the equipment used to
measure the air quality, and 3) the detection limits of the
equipment. We are still waiting for
this basic information, even though we filed a records request more than several
days ago. This information is most
useful to the community, hours or even days after the accident – not
LABB’s iWitness Pollution Map (www.labucketbrigade.org)
is a real time crowd sourced map of citizen reports of petrochemical accidents
and their effects on people’s health and their environment. The Shell Norco accident resulted in a record
10 reports from citizens impacted by the smoking flare. The Honeywell Baton
Rouge hydrofluoric acid leak resulted in two reports. These reports, detailing symptoms of acute
chemical exposure, contradict the “no danger to the public” statements made by
LDEQ and the companies. LABB conducts
due diligence with these reports by sending them to all enforcement agencies,
including the EPA, the US Coast Guard and LDEQ. LDEQ is usually the last to respond to these emails, often many days
poor response creates even more danger to the public because:
People are exposed to toxic
Evacuation/shelter in place
orders are not called.
Health surveillance for
symptoms of chemical exposure is not conducted (since the Department of
Health and Hospitals relies on LDEQ’s assessment). To our knowledge in the last twelve
years, LDEQ has never once stated that their monitoring found an accident to
pose a danger to the public. This is
most likely because they arrive at the scene several hours after the
chemical accident. Unfortunately,
the residents who live in these communities do not have the same luxury.
It discredits the reputation of
the LDEQ in protecting public health and the environment. LDEQ’s failure to ever find a problem,
even when communities can smell the pollution and are reporting symptoms
of acute exposure, creates a gulf in trust. This trust gulf poses problems for
It increases the population at
risk. If people believe the LDEQ
statements that these accidents pose no danger to the public, they make
decisions like buying a house next to a refinery or sending their kids to
school near a chemical plant due to a (false) sense of safety.
have been tracking citizen complaints made to the LDEQ since 2005 on our
Refinery Accident Database (http://www.labucketbrigade.org). In some cases it takes LDEQ over 20 days to
get to the scene of reported air pollution. Obviously, the monitor will not pick up anything 20 days later! Air pollution can move within a matter of
minutes, so quick response times are necessary to accurately measure the public
health risk and environmental consequences of the accident.
December 2011, the LABB and the Environmental Integrity Project petitioned EPA
to review and, if necessary, revoke the LDEQ’s authority to manage the Clean
Air Act program. The LDEQ’s inability to
respond to environmental emergencies in a timely manner is just one more
symptom of the funding shortfalls that make it harder for state
officials to meet their responsibilities under the Clean Air Act. According to the Inspector General’s report:
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade/EIP petition outlines
the following shortcomings in the state’s implementation of the Clean Air Act program:
Louisiana’s average yearly expenditure on the Title
V program between 2005 and 2010 was $4.4 million — about $6.5 million less than
what the state estimated it would annually need in 1993.
Louisiana spent less than $5000 per facility to
implement the Title V program in 2008. This is insufficient to cover the cost of issuing permits, monitoring
some of the largest and most complex petrochemical plants in the nation, and
taking enforcement actions when necessary. As a point of comparison, Texas spent about $21,000 per facility on
average in 2008.
Louisiana does not take enforcement actions or
otherwise resolve serious violations of the Clean Air Act in a timely
manner. At the end of 2010, nearly 30
percent of the “High Priority Violations” identified by
the state went unresolved for 270 days or more. EPA policy requires state agencies to resolve all High Priority
Violations within 270 days.
When Louisiana does take enforcement actions, the
penalties are a little more than a slap on the wrist. In 2010, the average penalty for a Clean Air
Act Violation in Louisiana was $1,329.86 — the second lowest in the
nation. In Texas, the average penalty
for a violation of the Clean Air Act was $26,619.92 in 2010 — more than 22
Louisiana does not check the compliance status of
major sources of air pollution on a regular basis. Between 2009 and 2010,
Louisiana only checked the compliance status of 75 percent of major facilities
operating in the state. EPA policy
requires state agencies to complete comprehensive compliance evaluations for
all major facilities every two years.
will continue to push the EPA to evaluate LDEQ’s implementation of the Clean
Air Act and take the necessary actions to ensure that:
responds to industrial accidents and provides necessary information to the
affected communities in a timely manner;
improves and expands fenceline monitoring in the state; and
increases enforcement and compliance monitoring activities — at least to the
point where the agency satisfies the minimum requirements of the Clean Air Act.
look forward to your response by June 22, 2012.
Hatch, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ)
Nolan, Administrator of Enforcement, LDEQ
Herrera, Chief of Air Toxics Enforcement, EPA Region VI
Coleman, Acting Regional Administrator, EPA Region VI
Mason, Emergency Response, EPA Region VI
Stanislaus, Solid Waste and Emergency Response, EPA HQ
Giles, Administrator Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, EPA HQ
Schaeffer, Executive Director, Environmental Integrity Project
Rolfes, Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade