Jindal declines meeting with St. Rose residents with concerns over mysterious smell

Residents complaining of vomiting, headaches, nausea

June 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Anne Rolfes and several St. Rose residnts congregated on the lawn of the Governor's mansion in Baton Rouge to bring attention to a mysterious odor that has been plaguing the community and which many people have said is makingthem sick.
Anne Rolfes and several St. Rose residnts congregated on the lawn of the Governor's mansion in Baton Rouge to bring attention to a mysterious odor that has been plaguing the community and which many people have said is makingthem sick.
Several St. Rose residents traveled to Baton Rouge today and made it as far as the lawn of the Governor's Mansion in an effort to bring light to an odor many of them say has been making them sick.

However, the group still does not have any answers about what is causing the odor after Gov. Bobby Jindal declined to meet with them.

The attempted meeting comes nearly two weeks after a strong odor was first reported in the area of the International Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT) facility in St. Rose. State and parish officials are still working with the industrial complex to identify the odor, although those present at a community meeting held in the area today said it was not detectable.

Anne Rolfes, founding director of LABB, said her group has received more than 130 complaints from area residents, many of whom are complaining of health problems coinciding with the odor. 

"We have a request in to Gov. Jindal to come and meet in St. Rose. It’s an emergency zone and we need the top state official to come and acknowledge that," she said.

The odor is coming from the IMTT campus, specifically a portion of the campus where an asphalt production plant is jointly operated by Shell and IMTT. The plant owners have mobilized international pollution expert Mike Hill, who traveled to the plant from Canada to provide expertise on eliminating the odor.

Ronald Perry, Homeland Secuirty and Emergency Preparedness director for St. Charles Parish, said the emergency operations center (EOC) has received dozens and dozens of calls about the issue and that a couple of steps have already  been taken to try and pinpoint the issue.

“Feedstocks to the refinery process have been switched, the resultant asphalt byproducts that were suspected to be the cause of the problem have been exported from the site or are in the process of being exported,” he said.

According to Perry, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) was preparing a mandate that the suspect asphalt be removed from the site when IMTT and Shell volunteered to remove the substance.

Shortly after St. Rose residents began making calls about the odor on June 7, LDEQ sent their mobile air monitoring lab to the Preston Hollow area of St. Rose where they have been continuously taking air samples.

Perry said there has been no indication of elevated pollution levels in the area since the odor first appeared.

“Readings indicate air quality within normal ranges throughout this event, according to LDEQ. They continue to monitor IMTT and Shell to identify and eliminate the source of the objectionable odor,” he said.

Although LDEQ’s air sample readings have not found abnormal levels of pollutants in the air, several people in the area have been complaining of health problems they attribute to the odor.

Tim Beckstrom, public information officer for LDEQ, 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.  

However, Beckstrom 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.

LABB mobilized an emergency response team that canvassed the neighborhoods surrounding IMTT on Friday, June 13. Of the 120 people they spoke to, 84 percent reported health problems coinciding with the odor, which included nausea, headaches and respiratory issues.

Rolfes said that LDEQ 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.

David Goodson, who lives on Riverwood Drive near the IMTT campus, said the smell has been overwhelming for more than a week and he has never experienced anything like it in his seven years living in the area.

“It is just miserable. The smell comes into your house and it is like sulphur or rotten eggs or something. It is overpowering and it makes you nauseous,” he said.

Goodson said he began experiencing health issues, including a sore throat and diarrhea, shortly after the odor appeared.

“I know it’s toxic. You don’t smell sulphur in the air everyday, its unnatural,” he said.

In addition to experiencing headaches, nausea and diarrhea, Lizzie Fleming, who has been living in the old St. Rose area for more than a year, is one of a few residents who have noticed a rash develop on her and her grandchildren’s skin.

“Sometimes I keep my grandchildren out here and they come to see me and they’ve got bumps all over their face,” she said. Melanie Smith, an old St. Rose resident,  has lived in the area her entire life and has never been subjected to such a smell.

“It is a horrible and awful smell. Sometimes when I go out it is hard for me to the breathe,” she said.

Smith, who has had to visit a doctor for severe headaches and blurry vision since the odor emerged on June 7, said she does not understand why it is taking so long to stop the smell.

“I worry about my health,” she said. “It seems like to me that when it first happened it should have been taken care of and it has been going on and on and getting worse.”

So far, the parish’s Emergency Operations Center has not made any announcement to residents regarding protecting themselves from potential pollutants affecting the area.

 Perry said if the situation were to worsen and pose a verified threat the EOC would take action.

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

Residents may call the 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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