A strong odor that plagued the St. Rose area for two weeks and caused more than 100 residents to complain of health issues has been identified and eliminated.
Greg Langley, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said both Shell and International Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT) have admitted responsibility for the stinky emissions.
Last week, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) and several St. Rose residents held a press conference about the odor before heading to the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge to demand Gov. Bobby Jindal do something about the situation, which at that point was unresolved.
Langley said the strong odor appears to be gone and was caused by crude feedstock with a high sulphur content that the Shell plant, which is located on the IMTT campus, was using in their asphalt processing.
“It’s a refining process that involved crude oil that had a higher than normal sulfur content that overwhelmed the facility,” Langley said.
Langley said Shell had neglected to recalibrate their odor elimination equipment to properly handle the high sulfur content crude and the resulting odor, which then leaked out into the community.
“Some of the equipment they had couldn’t handle it,” he said. “Their equipment is being cleaned. They are going to add a caustic scrubber.”
Despite calls about the odor coming into the St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center, LDEQ and LABB, it appears Shell may have been continuing to process the stinky asphalt throughout part of the ordeal.
“My feeling was that they were still running some of it,” Langley said.
The asphalt produced by the feedstock has been moved off the facility’s premises.
Although several residents complained of a variety of issues linked to the odor, including headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Langley said LDEQ failed to pick up levels of toxins that would be considered harmful to humans.
However, Langley added that LDEQ is not set up to address any health effects residents may be reporting.
“We don’t do anything on the health issues. We are not medical people,” he said.
LDEQ is currently investigating the incident, which Langley said will take an undetermined amount of time to wrap up, and pending the results Shell may face fines. In particular, LDEQ investigators will be examining logs maintained by Shell employees regarding the maintenance of the equipment that did not properly process the odor-causing emissions.
A joint statement by Shell and IMTT said the emissions were within permitted limits, but that they will focus on adding to their odor elimination equipment.
“Shell and IMTT are working corroboratively to immediately install additional odor control equipment to remove trace non-toxic sulfur compounds. Shell and IMTT are also working jointly on an improved process to notify state and local officials. A release of any kind is something Shell and IMTT take very seriously. The protection of the communities where we operate, our workers, and the environment remain our top priorities,” the statement read.