Parish official says state refused to provide additional air monitoring
Around 1,000 protestors led by a former Army lieutenant general plan to picket the Shell asphalt plant in St. Rose after the state refused a request to implement air monitoring in the area.
St. Rose Community: One Voice, a group formed in the aftermath of a 10-day emissions release by Shell in June, had asked St. Charles Parish to provide 24-hour air monitoring near the asphalt plant, which is located on IMTT’s campus in St. Rose. More than 130 people in the area said that the hydrogen sulfide released from the facility made them sick.
Ron Perry, director of St. Charles Parish’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), said he met with Shell and IMTT officials after hearing complaints from St. Rose residents that emissions were still occurring at the facility. He added that air monitoring would have to be performed by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).
“We requested that the LDEQ bring back a mobile air monitoring lab to the St. Rose area. This request was denied mainly because of lessening of call volume to the DEQ hotline along with site monitoring that has not indicated a need for additional monitoring at this time,” Perry said. “It should be noted that there is only one mobile air monitoring lab for the entire state and the resource is being shared throughout, so it is a very scarce resource.”
One of the founders of St. Rose Community: One Voice, Martha Huckabay, said it is disheartening that the parish is not making more of an effort to protect its citizens.
Huckabay said she understands that industry is very important to the parish’s economy, but she was upset after meeting with Perry and other EOC officials who told her that St. Charles Parish would not be able to provide any air monitoring.
“Basically the parish is saying they have nothing to do with it, but they have everything to do with it,” she said. “I cannot sit here blindly and pretend this is not a problem. I am not against any of these industries. It is how we survive and make money… it’s our livelihood. But to have something in industry that is affecting our quality of life and polluting the air and EOC is not going to step in…we are going to have a problem.”
Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the leader of the statewide environmental group the Green Army, said the parish government’s reluctance to even look into placing an air monitor in the area is puzzling.
“Why wouldn’t they want to at least find out how much it costs to hire a company?” he said.
Honoré said with advances in air monitoring technology, the cost to hire a third party contractor, at least temporarily, would likely not be too expensive.
“It is not like this is a broke parish where they can’t spend a few thousand dollars to give people peace of mind. They just don’t want to do it,” he said. “They put the companies before the safety of the people.”
Renee Simpson, spokeswoman for St. Charles Parish, said that parish officials are currently working with Shell and IMTT to formulate a response to the St. Rose community group.
Based on complaints that emissions in the area are still occurring, but are not being recorded due to a lack of air monitoring, Honoré and St. Rose Community: One Voice have scheduled a protest of the Shell asphalt plant on Oct. 10 at 3 p.m. Honoré estimates that 1,000 people, including St. Rose residents as well as college students who will be bussed in, will protest at the facility.
“What other choice do people have? The parish president won’t go down there and his people won’t go down there,” Honoré said.
Honoré said he is fed up with inaction on all levels of government when it comes to toxic emissions in residential neighborhoods.
“I spent 37 years defending this country and I’ll be damned if I’ve ever seen anything like this,” he said. “People have no damned reason to make this up. This is something that is affecting their lives.”
However, Honoré said he and St. Rose residents are hoping to continue a dialog with the parish government to place some sort of air monitoring in the area so they do not have to resort to a protest.
“We want democracy to work not because you have a retired general running around, but because you are responding to the people that live there,” he said.
Rochelle Touchard, spokeswoman for Shell, said there have been no odors reported at the asphalt plant since the startup of an oxidizer on Aug. 13.
“These complaints were investigated and the odors were not from our site nor were they related to the June event,” she said.
Touchard added that before, during and after the June odor event all emissions from the Shell and IMTT facilities were well below permitted limits. She said the emissions were also below the ambient air standards set forth by LDEQ.
“Extensive air sampling by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Shell and a third party monitoring company hired by Shell and IMTT in June found no readings to indicate any substances were present at levels that would be harmful to human health,” Touchard said. “Additional monitoring was performed in August and yielded the same results.”
Touchard said that Shell and IMTT scheduled a meeting with St. Rose Community: One Voice, but that the meeting was canceled by the community group.
Councilman Larry Cochran, who is a longtime member and former chief of the St. Rose Volunteer Fire Department, said the department has rolled around 60 times since the emissions release happened.
“That is what we do – respond to all smells up and down the river,” he said.
Cochran understands the complaints of local residents and has questioned the response by LDEQ.
“LDEQ is who these plants answer to. They were engaged and they came out and they said it was not hazardous to their health. I told them if you put a couple of pounds of shrimp in the trunk of your car and then eat it two weeks later, it might not be hazardous but it certainly isn’t going to be good,” he said.
Despite his concerns over emissions from the facility, Cochran said he has had good interactions with both companies in the past.
“IMTT and Shell have been great partners in my district. They have helped out with a number of community things,” he said.
While Cochran said a protest might be good at bringing attention to the matter, he is unsure whether it would make the situation any better.
“A protest is great because it gets the word out and gets your message out there, but at the end of the day what is the resolution? We need to get them all to the table and work through it,” he said.
In that vein, Cochran said he is going to do what he can to bridge the gap between Shell, IMTT and the St. Rose residents.
“Hopefully I can bring them together. That is my goal,” he said.