St. Rose residents complain of nausea, vomiting near source of strange odor

Week after smell reported, DEQ still not testing inside industrial property

June 13, 2014 at 3:40 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

St. Rose residents complain of nausea, vomiting near source of strange odor
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is currently investigating a foul odor that was first reported in St. Rose a week ago and which some residents have said is making them ill.

On Friday, June 6, DEQ first deployed technicians to the St. Rose area for testing. On Monday, they sent out their mobile air monitoring lab (MAML) unit to the Preston Hollow neighborhood to continue sampling the air.

Despite several residents complaining of health problems due to the odor in areas nearby the campuses of International Matex Tank Terminal (IMTT) and the Shell asphalt plant, DEQ officials have said they have not picked up levels of toxins beyond restricted limits.

However, DEQ has not been able to find the source of the smell either. Throughout the ordeal, the state agency has not accessed either the IMTT or Shell campus and has been limited to so-called “fence line” testing undertaken at the edge of those properties.

Tim Beckstrom, public information officer, said specialists will remain deployed in the area until the origin of the odor is pinpointed and an investigation is completed.

“Our role is to get to the bottom of it and we’ve been out there a week and it’s taking some time,” he said.  

Beckstrom said it is unclear what could be causing the smell.

"From what I understand it is a burnt sulfur dioxide odor," he said.

Although DEQ has not been able to locate the source of the odor, Shell released a statement saying that their emissions testing equipment has indicated vapor releases from IMTT.

“Shell is currently monitoring small releases of vapor from the IMTT facility in St. Rose, La. We are aware of a nuisance odor causing minor impacts and some irritation to nearby residents. A release of any amount is something Shell takes seriously. The protection of workers, the communities where we operate and the environment remain our top priorities. We are working with our partners at IMTT, providing mutual assistance through data collection to identify and resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” the statement read.

The IMTT facility stores a variety of chemicals, but Beckstrom said it is too early to identify IMTT as the source of the problem and implied that Shell may be doing so in their own interest.

“As I understand it (Shell) is finger pointing. That is something we don’t get involved with. We are out there to get our own results,” he said.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) said they have received over 30 complaints from those living in neighboring communities, including Preston Hollow and Old St. Rose.

Numerous residents have said the odor has resulted in nausea, headaches, burning eyes and respiratory problems.

Edmond Brown, who lives on at the fence line at the IMTT facility, said while he has smelled the odor before it has only been for short periods of time rather than a continuous odor as he and others have experienced over the past week.

“Every now and then it will make a smell and stop. I just figured that is the way it was supposed to be,” he said.

Brown said the smell has been overpowering for at least the past week and that he is planning on visiting the doctor over the weekend for health issues that he attributes to the odor.

“My wife is nauseated just like me. I got two dogs in the back yard and they are sick too,” he said. “Whatever they blew off, whatever is back there, it just made everything sick.”

Despite concerns from those who have called in to DEQ, Beckstrom said their technicians still have not detected levels of toxins that would be harmful those living in area.

“So far we’ve seen non-detects for any health effects. We are still evaluating,” he said.  

However, Beckstorm said those who may be experiencing problems should seek medical attention.

“If anybody has health concerns of ill effects they really need to consult their doctor. It’s important people seek medical treatment if that is the case,” he said.

Some are skeptical of DEQ and their ability to properly ascertain whether people are being sickened the odor.

Anne Rolfes, founding director of LABB, said that DEQ is ill prepared to determine what constitutes a threat to someone’s health.

“Their equipment is extremely problematic for protecting people in this circumstance. They are able to get workers out of situations that threaten their lives, but they are not able to determine the effects of long-term exposure,” she said.

LABB organizers are currently planning on going door-to-door in St. Rose to document exposure cases.

“It is a ridiculous situation, people are sick and the state is saying there is no harm to human health. This, more than events in recent history, illustrates (DEQ’s) clear ineptitude in protecting people from the threat of chemical exposure,” she said.

For an area wide announcement to be made regarding the community protecting themselves against emissions or the ordering of a possible evacuation, Ron Perry, emergency preparedness director for St. Charles Parish, said it would be up to DEQ to make the determination that unsafe levels of toxins are being released.

“If it reached at an acute or toxic stage, and I’d have to rely on DEQ to tell us this, we would reach out to people in a number of ways,” he said.

Residents may call St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center for more information or to make odor reports at (985) 783-5050.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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