A power failure at Chalmette Refining LLC has led to a thin layer of white powder descending upon Southeast Louisiana, raising concerns about the toxicity and potential harm that could emerge from exposure. Citing a power failure for the reason that up to one ton of catalyst were released into the air and falling down atop cars, homes, businesses and other property, the company has attempted to assure the public that safety is not a concern. However, the care that the refinery recommends during clean-up tells a much different story.
Spreading across the communities of Arabi and New Orleans’ lower ninth ward, the powder used for refinery processes resembled simple dust or powdered sugar and alarmed many during a time in which little to no information can cause significant panic. Taking place on September 6th, many in these communities are left wondering just why chemical releases keep happening and what is being done to prevent them from happening.
Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), already investigating the unapproved release of catalyst, has notified the public that, after photographic any and all damage the powder has caused to their property, they can move forward with clean-up. Yet, in their required notice to the DEQ, the Chalmette refinery warned that gloves and safety glasses should be used when cleaning up the material. St. Bernard Parish Fire Chief Thomas Stone warned that the powder could be an irritant to individuals with respiratory problems and that the powder should be cleaned in order to prevent extended exposure.
This is not the first time that Southeast Louisiana has found itself on the receiving end of chemical releases. Aside from the BP oil spill that released hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf, the July 7th, 2009, release of ethyl acrylate by Dow in Hahnville led to hundreds of complaints related to health problems of individuals living or working in the area. While no legal outcome has come from this matter, it is important that people in Louisiana understand the unacceptable nature, both legally and in terms of common responsibility, for these incidences to be occurring and requires significant action on the part of the Department of Environmental Quality.
As was already noted, individuals who find the powder on their homes or property should photograph this in order to preserve record of the event. What’s more, any individual who has suffered health problems related to exposure should contact a legal expert immediately to find out their rights due to this incident.