Isaac Damaged Two Tanks, Chemicals Leaked
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A chemical storage facility that flooded during Hurricane Isaac told state officials days after the storm that no more than about 38,700 gallons of chemicals leaked from two tanks damaged by storm surge, and it's not clear how much of what leaked flowed off the facility's grounds.
In the report filed Tuesday, the company says it notified state police on Sept. 4 about the release of no more than 36,161 gallons of a paraffin-based oil product called Ultra-S4 and 2,546 gallons of a product called Vivatec from its Braithwaite terminal in Plaquemines Parish.
The Associated Press obtained the report by Stolthaven New Orleans LLC to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality through a public records request on Friday.
A company spokesman said this week that chemicals that escaped the tanks were contained by levees surrounding the facility. Still, sheens were photographed after the storm, and there has been conflicting information about how much spilled.
On Tuesday, Stolthaven reported to the Coast Guard's National Response Center that 191,000 gallons of chemicals might have been released. The company and state officials said Thursday that amount represents a "worst-case" amount of chemicals spilled and not how much leaked out.
DEQ said on Friday that it was looking at fining the company for not notifying officials soon enough about chemical releases.
"Our first priority is to hold Stolthaven accountable for this incident so that they get this area cleaned up as quickly as possible," said DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch. "The investigation into the incident continues and many state, local and federal agencies have questions that Stolthaven will answer."
DEQ said a chemical called octene was released when the facility was flooded but that tests have not found octene in the surface waters.
But the agency says some samples looking for oil, diesel and petroleum found levels above drinking water standards in the flooded areas outside of the terminal. Those levels were not considered a threat to humans, DEQ said.
The agency said air sampling detected high levels of methyl acrylate around Sept. 1. The agency added that air monitoring data shows no problems now outside the terminal.
No injuries due to the spill have been reported, the company said. Cleanup at the facility continued Friday. Crews are picking up drums scattered throughout the community outside the terminal, DEQ said.
Percy "PV" Griffin, the Plaquemines council member for the area, said residents were anxious and concerned about how many gallons of chemicals escaped the facility. Some residents have sued the company.
"They don't know where exactly the chemicals are at," he said. "Is it contaminated? I don't know."
Homes surrounding the facility have been evacuated as a precaution. People living near the Stolthaven facility are being given access to their flooded homes during a two-hour window in the evenings. State police have closed off the area surrounding the facility while it is cleaned up. There are between 75 and 100 homes near the terminal, Plaquemines Sheriff Lonnie Greco said.
The spill at Stolthaven appears much less severe than a spill at a Murphy Oil refinery flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In that case, a tank was knocked off its foundation and leaked about 1 million gallons of crude oil into surrounding neighborhoods.
Besides cleaning up leaked chemicals, crews have been working to get 144 rail cars pushed over by the floodwaters back on rail tracks, officials said. About 60 rail cars still need to be righted, officials said. Many of the cars contained hazardous materials.
State officials said they were investigating the chemical leaks but that their priority was to get the facility cleaned up.
Stolthaven storage and transfer facility sits next to the Mississippi River in Braithwaite, a community protected by levees overtopped by floodwaters.
The facility is owned by Stolt-Nielsen Ltd., a company that ships bulk liquid chemicals and vegetable oils around the world.