While a bulk storage facility in Plaquemines Parish continues post-Hurricane Isaac cleanup and repairs, an environmental group is calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over the state Department of Environmental Quality.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade also called for the resignation of DEQ’s press secretary.
“Press Secretary Rodney Mallett is responsible for the false assurances to the public since the Stolthaven spill. His language of reassurance is in stark contrast to the facts submitted by Stolthaven,” Bucket Brigade Founding Director Anne Rolfes wrote in a letter Wednesday to DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch.
Rolfes said Mallett made comments that there were no “off-site impacts” from the incident while reports from the company say there was pollution released.
Although DEQ monitoring is showing that, so far, there hasn’t been water or air pollution of concern outside of the facility, Rolfes said DEQ staff aren’t looking for the right things.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, however, disagrees, saying DEQ staff worked long and hard to protect the environment and the community.
“Anybody that throws rocks at them (DEQ) is wrong,” Nungesser said. He said testing of the floodwater and continuing air monitoring around the facility haven’t shown any reasons for concerns for residents.
He also praised State Police, DEQ and other state agencies for their efforts, as well as the facility staff for being upfront about potential dangers and keeping the parish informed of progress at the plant.
If the situation changes, he said, he’s confident DEQ will inform the parish and that information will be given to the public.
“I’m critical when I think a company, like BP, doesn’t do the right thing,” Nungesser said. That’s not the case with Stolthaven, he said.
The incident occurred when Hurricane Isaac hit southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29, causing storm surge to overwhelm some levees in the eastern part of Plaquemines Parish.
Located in Braithwaite, the Stolthaven New Orleans facility was flooded, lifting some storage tanks off their foundation and derailing about 140 railroad cars, State Police Capt. Doug Cain said.
State Police took over incident command from Sept. 3 until Sept. 16, when the facility was deemed in safe operating order, Cain said. He said there were apparently no off-site impacts from the incident.
On Tuesday, DEQ issued a $12,189.61 penalty to Stolthaven New Orleans because the facility failed to notify DEQ of an emergency situation within one hour of it occurring.
A release of several compounds from the facility occurred Aug. 30 in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, but it wasn’t reported to the department until Sept. 1, according to a DEQ news release.
Although initial reports to the National Response Center on Sept. 12 listed a possible combined spill of 191,337 gallons of various materials, a day later a correction was made to the National Response Center stating that the previous report was the amount in the storage tanks and it was unclear how much material was released.
Rolfes said statements by Mallett that there were “no off-site impacts” from the spill were not true and called them a “cover-up” of the problems at the facility. She said the air monitoring is measuring only fatal levels of pollution and not long-term exposure levels, which would be much lower.
Mallett said that’s not true, that the monitoring is looking for any pollution above background levels, and that monitoring levels are set to protect workers and community.
There is air sampling information available on the DEQ website, http://www.deq.louisiana.gov, under the Stolthaven button.
Air monitoring began Sept. 1 and since then there have been air monitoring and water samples taken near the chemical storage facility, according to a news release from DEQ. Although some tests showed levels above drinking water standards in flooded areas outside the facility, floodwater isn’t considered a drinking water source and so isn’t a human health hazard, according to the DEQ news release.
All of the tests showed the levels in the floodwater were safe for contact with surface water, including wading through it, according to the news release. However, DEQ continues to warn people to avoid contact with floodwater because it contains bacteria from animal and human waste, material from flooded homes and cars, and other pollution that can be harmful, said Peter Ricca, emergency response manager with DEQ.