EPA and governor have asked to investigate Westbank plant suspected of emitting foul odors over the English Channel
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Concerned that the smells could be toxic, Justin Vittitow says the smells overwhelm him and his family just on porch time.
“The main thing for me is to worry about the long term effects on my daughter. “Many long-term residents feel the same way that we want to live in a safe environment,” said Vittitow.
Ongoing for a few years and feeling their complaints have fallen on deaf ears, Vittitow and dozens of other residents have found themselves to be their best advocates.
They formed JOIN, or Jefferson, Orleans, the Irish chain Neighbors for Clean Air.
“When in the middle of the night you have fumes seeping into your house and you fear for the safety of your children. And there is a spokesperson for the LDEQ who says we did not find a violation. I feel absolutely helpless. It will drive you crazy. We have to put an end to this, ”Vittitow said.
They found that residents had filed more than 850 complaints with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, ranging from headaches, migraines, breathing difficulties and respiratory burns caused by odors.
They believe a Westbank bulk liquid storage terminal called Blackwater, or BWC, is a possible culprit.
Within minutes of an LDEQ zoom meeting with State House Representative Mandy Landry, the agency said it “had reduced a likely potential source of odor coming from BWC Harvey.”
“The peak in complaints occurs when they are loading and unloading barges and railcars,” Vittitow said.
According to the LDEQ, these air monitors will be here at the corner of Pleasant and St-Thomas for most of the year. The agency says it is still investigating complaints, but it also needs more science.
“It may or may not be black water, so I’m not trying to absolve Blackwater, but neither am I trying to condemn them if it’s unfair,” Jay Banks said.
Board member Jay Banks says he also wants more information and more help.
The city council passed a resolution calling on both the governor and the EPA to suspend and review BWC’s pollution permit.
Until policymakers can intervene at the Westbank plant, Vittitow says he will hold his breath.
In a statement, a spokesperson for BWC said:
We have gone to great lengths to involve those in the community who have concerns and to answer their questions, including making a site visit to our facility. We will continue to engage in good faith. Nonetheless, the Department of Environment Quality’s Irish Channel Odor Report from June 2021 shows that our facility is not the only or main source of odors that some have reported. This report can be viewed on the LDEQ website at https://www.deq.louisiana.gov/assets/docs/News_Releases/2021/LDEQissuesreportonodorsinIrishChannelsectionofNewOrleans.pdf
As a reminder, BWC Terminal Harvey has operated safely and without environmental irregularities since it started in early 2015. Our company takes environmental performance and safety seriously. We will continue to maintain high operating standards and cooperate fully with agencies responsible for monitoring environmental, health and safety performance.
For proper context, please note that BWC Terminal operates in an area of intensive industrial activity. There are a total of 6 facilities within 2 miles of the Irish Channel district, 5 of which carry out the same operations as BWC with almost identical product mixes. The attached graphic provides additional visual context.
The company has made significant investments in technology to further address concerns that may exist. These include the installation of an odor neutralization system on our asphalt tanks and carbon absorption systems. These are not systems that mask odors, but rather eliminate them.
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