No clear plans from industry, state or federal government about preparation or cleanup
“I have been asking for spill prevention measures for the last two weeks and have gotten little to no information from industry or emergency response officials,” said Anna Hrybyk, Louisiana Bucket Brigade Program Manager. “People living in the flood zone need to be prepared for serious chemical contamination and clean up.”
The enormous waste pit in Grand Bois is in the area to be flooded. When the pit was created, 81 trucks of waste with benzene, xylene, hydrogen sulfide and arsenic were trucked in from an Exxon plant. Exxon made $30.46 billion in 2010.
LABB is sending a letter today to the relevant agencies requesting clean-up plans, including soil and water sampling plans for contamination.
Data from government sources, available on a map created by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, estimates that the following infrastructure is in the path of the floodwaters.
- 13,000 oil/gas wells
- 3,600 petroleum extraction operations
- 4,000 abandoned oil waste pits
- 1 refinery (Alon Refinery in Krotz Springs)
- 4 storage terminals
The numbers are likely higher as the most recent available data are several years old. Of particular concern are the thousands of open oil waste pits, like the one in Grand Bois, containing crude oil and chemicals. Officials with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality told LABB they have ordered 3 of the 4,000 waste pits to be emptied in preparation for the flooding.
Local residents and advocates believe that there is no comprehensive preparedness or response plan.
“The best predictor of the future is the past,” said Anne Rolfes, LABB Founding Director. “During the BP Oil Disaster and Hurricane Katrina, the agencies had no effective plans for dealing with the pollution, and residents and our environment continue to suffer as a result.”
The million-gallon oil spill at Murphy Oil during Hurricane Katrina is an example of the burden born by residents who not only face loss of property during disasters, but also chemical contamination. Murphy Oil failed to follow its hurricane preparedness guidelines, causing one of its tanks to be lifted from its foundation and spill oil throughout a neighborhood. Returning neighbors were aware of the oil because of its obvious presence, but never received any guidance from the refinery, state or federal government.
“Oil was everywhere – in the house, in the slab. It was unreal and we decided to move away,“ said Johnny Lewis, a resident of Chalmette at the time. “I got zero information from the refinery, zero from government who is supposed to be looking out for us.”
The purpose of today’s press events is to protect public health by prompting industry and the state to properly inform residents of the dangers they face as a result of the flooding. Residents who see chemical contamination can make reports to LABB’s Chemical Accidents Crisis Map found at map.labucketbrigade.org.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization supporting neighborhoods’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable communities free from industrial pollution.