Resident’s around the Chalmette Refining power plant in Louisiana are cleaning up after a power outage at the facility caused a release of spent catalyst powder. According to Chalmette Refining, more than 2,000 lbs of the powder fell on Chelmette and surrounding communities. In addition to Chalmette, the powder was reported in parts of Arabi and New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.
The power outage occurred around 2:00 a.m. local time, yesterday morning. Residents in the area reported that the white, powdery substance had blanketed the area. Some in the area are reporting respiratory problems and eye irritation. The powder is being tracked into homes, and has gotten into air conditioning units. Some residents who tried to wash their cars said that the substance won’t come off, even after repeated washings.
The catalyst powder is a byproduct of the refining process. A material data sheet for the catalyst powder says it can be an irritant to the eyes and skin if inhaled or ingested, according to one Louisiana TV station. 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.
Officials at Chalmette Refinery, however, maintain the powder is not hazardous, and said it was safe for residents to wash it off cars and buildings.
Chalmette Refinery says it has hired a company to come clean people’s property. For more information, impacted residents can call toll-free 1-877-657-2833.
This is not the first time an incident at Chalmette Refining has caused worry in the area. In January 2007, 400 to 500 fourth- and fifth-graders were exposed to a release of petroleum coke dust while on a field trip to the Chalmette Battlefield. Two children were hospitalized during that incident.