St. Rose residents demand answers about source of bad smell in community _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Geraldine Young, a resident of St. Rose, speaks during a press conference in front of the Louisiana Governor's Mansion about recent bad odors permeating her neighborhood. The recipient of a double-lung transplant two years ago, she said the smell recently has aggravated her health.

Residents of St. Rose gathered in front of the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday, demanding answers about what has been causing a horrible smell pervading their St. Charles Parish community.

“We’ve been smelling this toxic odor, this chemical odor,” said Erica Bolden, a St. Rose resident, “to where it’s so bad it’s coming into the house making you sick.”

The source of the bad smell was narrowed down last week to International-Matex Tank Terminals and a Shell Oil refinery near the community, but exactly what was causing the odor wasn’t known.

Some answers started coming out Thursday afternoon. Greg Langley, a state Department of Environmental Quality spokesman, said the source appears to have been a new feed stock of crude oil that contained a sulfur compound the plants’ vapor recovery and odor control equipment couldn’t contain.

Environmental control structures at the facilities are being improved, and the companies have decided to not use that particular crude oil feed stock again, Langley said.

Although residents said bad smells from surrounding industry are nothing new for the community, things took a turn for the worse starting June 6. Residents found the smell difficult to describe, with some saying it smelled like a chemical and others saying it was just a really bad odor, though many said it has made them ill.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade interviewed 116 residents of St. Rose on June 13 and found that 98 people reported health effects, with the major complaints being nausea, headaches or respiratory issues.

“People have really been overlooked in all of this,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which organized the press conference. Rolfes said the group is requesting that Gov. Bobby Jindal visit St. Rose to help showcase there is a problem, and she urged medical professionals to visit the community to help with health concerns.

Langley said DEQ staff have been at the site since June 9 and have had a mobile air monitoring vehicle in the area since June 12 and haven’t found any air quality concerns during the day or overnight.

Kimberly Windon, a Shell Oil Co. representative, said in an email that both companies have done tests under the supervision of DEQ to locate the odor’s source and found that emissions were well within permitted limits. Air tests done within the facilities and in the community also met U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards.

“Shell and IMTT are working collaboratively to immediately install additional odor control equipment to remove trace nontoxic sulfur compounds,” Windon wrote. In addition, both companies are working with state and St. Charles Parish officials to get a joint early notification system to improve response time for any future issues.

“A release of any amount is something Shell and IMTT takes very seriously. The protection of workers, the communities where we operate and the environment remain our top priorities,” Windon wrote.

Langley said the last report officials got of a bad smell was Saturday morning, but residents said the smell is still bad at night.

“At night, I’m coughing. I can’t sleep,” said Walter Evans Jr., a St. Rose resident. “DEQ says it’s not enough to hurt me, but they don’t know how I’m feeling.”

Langley said the smell has been described as sulfur-like, so DEQ has had its mobile air monitoring vehicle in the neighborhood looking for sulfur compounds, but hasn’t found anything in levels to cause concern.

Odors are very difficult to track,” he said. “Right now, it’s a nuisance odor.”

That’s not to say people couldn’t be affected by it, because some people react differently to different odors, he said. But as far as being a problem for the general populace, he said, monitoring in the community hasn’t shown any reason for concern.

The 10 residents of St. Rose who went to Baton Rouge on Thursday strongly disagreed and said it has affected their health.

“All we’re hearing is, ‘It’s nothing. It’s not harmful.’ But it’s harming us,” Bolden, of St. Rose, said.

Shelia Rowel, also of St. Rose, said she’s had nausea, headaches and diarrhea since the strong smell began.

“We need to be evacuated,” she said.

Other residents said the companies as well as state and local officials have given them little information about what is going on, and all they know is that the air smells bad.

“They’re not passing out fliers or passing out information,” said Marco Rowel, of St. Rose. “I hope we can get some answers.”

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.