As the investigation into the Chalmette Refining catalyst powder release begins, one environmental group is claiming that the hazards of the incident are being downplayed. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade said people never should have been allowed to touch the white powder that blanketed Chalmette, Arabi and New Orleansâ€™ Lower Ninth Ward on Labor Day.
At least 2,000 lbs of the powder, a byproduct of refining operations, was released on Monday as a result of a power outage that occurred around 2:00 a.m. local time. Officials from both the refinery and St. Bernard’s Parish have maintained that the powder is not hazardous, and said it was safe for residents to wash it off cars and buildings.
However, one local TV station reported 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.
According to that document, the largest component of the spent catalyst is kaolin, a naturally occurring clay-like substance. There are small amounts of more hazardous ingredients, including titanium oxide.
Ann Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, is also pointing to the Material Safety Data Sheet to back its claims that the powder is hazardous.
“You had advice given to them to hose off your car. Well what happens when you hose off, well, your kids come and play in the water and you all track it all through your house,â€ Rolfes told Fox8TV.
She added that US Environmental Protection Agency considers â€œSpent Catalyst” dust the type of pollution that could lead to a variety of health risks like difficulty breathing and aggravated asthma if one breathes in the fine particles.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has launched an investigation into the Chalmette Refining powder release. But even with the investigation in its early stages, an official with the DEQ told Fox8TV that data collected so far indicates there are no long term effects associated with the release, and that it is a short term irritant.
Chalmette Refining and St. Bernard Parish officials continue to maintain that the powder poses no hazards.