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St. Rose Stench Traced to Crude
by Christopher Staudinger
State investigators believe they’ve found the source of a “foul odor” that has stumped officials and sickened residents for nearly two weeks in St. Rose. Lee Lemond, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality's lead investigator for the incident, said that a certain kind of crude oil used in an asphalt production process is to blame.
The Shell Bitumen (asphalt) facility takes crude oil, which is stored in tanks owned by International Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT), and processes it into asphalt. The asphalt is in turn stored in the IMTT tanks, according to Lemond. This specific kind of crude, which investigators think is to blame, likely caused a higher than average release of sulfurous compounds, which are highly odorous.
Neighbors have complained of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and other health effects in the wake of the odor.
Keith Adams first noticed the odor on the evening of June 6.
“I thought I had been poisoned,” he said, “I threw up.” He said the odor was “very putrid” and “sometimes it would come and it would last for hours and hours.”
Adams lives in the Preston Hollow neighborhood, which sits just upriver from the Shell and IMTT facilities. He pointed out a survey conducted by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which said that 84% of 116 people canvassed reported health problems. “And I’m not counted because nobody asked me,” he said.
Lemond said that facility managers have shut down the portion of the facility that likely produced the gasses. It will undergo DEQ-supervised observation and maintenance. The asphalt that was produced in the faulty operation has been loaded onto a barge for disposal.
Going forward, he said, plant operators have removed this crude from allowable” types of crude that can be used in the operation. And, he said, “Shell and IMTT have proposed to truly look at installing a high caustic scrubber” that will reduce sulfur emissions. The companies are also expected to set up a hotline.
Meanwhile, the Anne Rolfes, director of the Bucket Brigade, said in a press release this week, “The health impacts of this ongoing accident are being brushed under the rug.” The group held a press conference Thursday with St. Rose residents to appeal for Governor Jindal’s assistance.
Lemond said that the investigation is still open and ongoing.
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