The St. Charles Parish Council held a special meeting to discuss the results of emissions monitoring near the IMTT asphalt plant in St. Rose. Last June, more than 130 people in the area said they felt sick after emissions were released from the facility for 10 days.
The strong odor 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, according to Greg Langley, press secretary for the state Department of Environmental Quality.
According to Lee Lemond, also of the LDEQ, recent monitoring of the air quality in St. Rose showed that levels of hydrogen sulfide never exceeded acceptable levels according to EPA standards.
But Anne Rolfes, founder of the non-profit environmental group The Bucket Brigade, said those findings were spotty and misleading. Average levels for hydrogen sulfide were 1.6 parts per billion, which she said falls within the EPA’s range for “concern.”
“There is no science about what is the effect of living with chemicals over years and years. What does it do to live with even low levels of exposures?” Rolfes said.
Lemond said that talks with both Shell and IMTT have yielded gains, including an immediate upgrade to vapor control systems with further upgrades planned in the next few months.
“It will be a very significant vapor recovery system at that time,” Lemond said.
Committee chair and District 4 council member Paul Hogan read a statement from IMTT and Shell stating that the companies could not be at the meeting on advice from legal council. The companies are currently in the middle of a class action lawsuit over the emissions.
Residents also took the opportunity to express their concerns. Elizabeth Beckham, who lives on Turtle Creek Lane, said she was worried about the effects the emissions could have on children at a nearby daycare.
“What’s going to happen to these kids when they grow up? We’re exposing them to these chemicals that everybody is saying is not harmful to you,” Beckham said. “Something is wrong, all we’re asking is that you look at us as people. We understand the revenue that comes from the plant, but the plant doesn’t vote for people.”
The group St. Rose One Voice has called for 24-hour air quality monitors throughout St. Rose. A representative of DEQ said monitoring equipment costs “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in addition to the manpower needed to collect samples, and would simply be too expensive given the department’s budget.
Retired Gen. Russell Honoré also fielded questions from council members. He said if air monitoring is not put in place, residents might end up having to be evacuated and bought out. Honoré said this is what is occurring in Mossville and Bayou Corne
“The consequences are people having to move…we’re evacuating them, buying them out,” Honoré said. “It’s unfortunate that could happen here if we don’t have the monitoring [in St. Rose].”
Council members called on the community to have patience with the process of finding a solution.
“I think the industry needs to be more open,” Councilwoman Carolyn Schexnaydre said. “I am going to see what we can do and what we can’t do, and we’ll work on it.”
Councilwoman Wendy Benedetto also asked residents not to “beat up” individual council members.
“We all have to look at this and figure the win-win situation,” Benedetto said. “How do we get the funds and how do we find the solution…I think we’re gonna find a resolution somehow, but I think it’s gonna take some time.”
St. Rose resident Betty Portera said that she recently had open heart surgery and suffers from asthma. She told the council she does not want to cause either Shell or IMTT to close.
“All I ask is that we can breathe,” Portera said.