DEQ investigates strange odor in Chalmette - FOX 8, WVUE,, weather, app, news, saints

DEQ investigates strange odor in Chalmette

Hundreds of homes sit near Chalmette's two big refineries and the Rain CII coke plant. Hundreds of homes sit near Chalmette's two big refineries and the Rain CII coke plant.
Approximate location of the Rain CII plant, Valero Refinery and Chalmette Refinery (Google Maps) Approximate location of the Rain CII plant, Valero Refinery and Chalmette Refinery (Google Maps)

There's a strange odor in the air in St. Bernard Parish. It's an odor that can be smelled in Jefferson Parish and parts of New Orleans, too.  Now, the DEQ is getting involved.

Residents in Chalmette and Terrytown first smelled something strange in the air Thursday evening. 

Chalmette resident Michelle Martin says, "It kind of did have a sulfur smell in the air yesterday, didn't really occur to me what it was."

Some people's eyes watered, and others had itchy throats. "The odor's real bad, especially for someone like me who has bronchitis and asthma real bad, you know," said St. Bernard Parish resident Russell Deroche Jr.

The Department of Environmental Quality sent in a mobile air monitoring lab Friday to test the air. A probe takes samples of the air, and then a machine analyzes the samples. The DEQ also brought in field workers.

Tom Killeen, inspections division administrator for DEQ, says, "We have several teams who are out in the community, doing both fence line monitoring around the facilities that are here as well as other areas where there could be sources.  You know, marine sources, rail car sources."

But Killeen thinks the smell is most likely sulfur dioxide or methane coming from the two refineries or the Rain CII coke plant in Chalmette.

Killeen says the facilities deny the odor is coming from their plants. However, the tests must still be conducted to make sure the companies are being truthful.

It won't be an easy job. "It's difficult. You can feel how the wind is blowing pretty hard, so these plumes or parts of the air are not sticking together, they're dispersing pretty quick right now.  But we're monitoring several different locations," Killeen explained.

In the meantime, DEQ is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to put in place a more stringent limit of just how much sulfur dioxide a company can legally emit. "We feel that a more protective level is necessary," Killeen said.

According to Killeen, the current levels of sulfur dioxide being emitted aren't harmful, but can be irritating to people with weak immune systems. And of course the odor is a nuisance.

Michelle Martin's mother has a weakened immune system. She's hoping new rules will be put into place, saying, "With these houses being so close to the refinery right there, there should be stricter regulations, you know, or put the refineries further away from the neighborhoods. One of the two."

Tom Killeen says the three companies in Chalmette are legally allowed to emit sulfur dioxide, but sometimes other chemicals accidentally get leaked into the air as well.

A spokesman for the Valero plant says they haven't emitted anything into the air that could have caused the odor.  The Chalmette refinery had no comment. 

The Rain CII coke plant released this statement:

Our Rain CII Chalmette Plant is operating under normal conditions and adhering to our permits. We do not believe any of the issues recently reported are due to our facility or operation. We continue to cooperate with the DEQ and other local and state officials.

The results of the DEQ's tests will be available next week.

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