Chalmette Refinery Accident Poses Danger to Those Already Ill

An LSU doctor says the chemicals released on Labor Day from the Chalmette Refining facility in Louisiana could pose a problem for people with pre-existing health problems. Dr. James Diaz, of the LSU Health Sciences Center’s School of Public Health, recently told WWLTV that that some of the chemicals released were the same toxins that have been found in defective Chinese drywall.

The Chalmette Refining release blanketed parts of Chalmette, Arabi and New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, including cars and homes, in a fine white powder. Refinery officials, as well as health officials in Louisiana, said repeatedly that the substance was spent catalyst powder, a byproduct of the refining process.

But now we know, thanks to a report Chalmette Refining submitted to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the incident also released 2,000 pounds of the sulfur dioxide, 1,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide and an unspecified amount of hydrogen sulfide into the air. That information has been confirmed by the DEQ, but the agency maintains that the amounts released fell below levels of concern specified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The days following the release, officials also issued reassurances that the powder was not toxic and could be safely washed from surfaces. This in spite of the fact that the Material Safety Data Sheet for the catalyst powder says it can be an irritant to the eyes and skin if inhaled or ingested. The data sheet cautions people to wear rubber gloves when handling the powder, and to decontaminate clothes and shoes, or even dispose of them all together.

Dr. Diaz told WWLTV that in addition to chemicals found in Chinese drywall, the Chalmette Refining accident also released chemicals found in car exhaust and volcanic ash. He recommended that people with certain pre-existing conditions should see a doctor if they are still having symptoms from the day of the chemical leak.

“I certainly think that if anyone has a pre-existing cardiopulmonary problem, and I’m talking about asthma, COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or even a cardiac condition such as congestive heart failure, that can result in a pulmonary condition called pulmonary edema, these individuals should not be part of the clean up,” Dr. Diaz said.

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