On December 21, 2012 the Algiers to Chalmette Ferry turned around due to a suspicion of a chemical release from the ExxonMobil and Rain CII Carbon industrial area in Chalmette Vista, according to WWL TV News and The Times Picayune .
DEQ has an air monitor in the Chalmette Vista neighborhood. If the wind direction last night was towards the ferry, the "Ch_Vista" air monitor would not pickup those levels, as the air monitor is in the opposite direction. DEQ used to monitor the air on the west bank side of the Mississippi River, but dismantled the monitor after Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Currently, there are three community monitors in St Bernard Parish.
Over the years, on-site monitors at ExxonMobil's oil refinery in Chalmette have shown the effects from the adjacent Rain CII Carbon petroleum coke plant. In a report to DEQ, ExxonMobil's monitored concentrations were reported above the occupational exposure limit of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) or 500 parts per billion (ppb) during 2011 and 2012, in DEQ document 8364090 . The health standard for ambient air is 0.075 ppm or 75 ppb sulfur dioxide.
Pollution levels in Chalmette Vista fail to meet the health standards for sulfur dioxide (75 parts per billion) and particluate matter sized 2.5 micrometers or PM2.5 (35 ug/m3). In Chalmette Vista, some of the higher readings this year for sulfur dioxide have been 229.3 ppb, 164.4ppb, and 138.5 ppb [well above 75 ppb]. At the Valero Energy monitor, the highest reading was 120 ppb SO2 and at the Meraux monitor was 59 ppb.
In December alone high readings for SO2 at "Ch_Vista" were 108 ppb and 143 ppb (both on Dec 9th) and 241 ppb and 184 ppb (both on Dec 10th). For PM2.5 for the year, high readings have been 88 ug/m3 and 67 ug/m3[ well above 35 ug/m3]. This does NOT include data from January's marsh fire. Yet, variances and emission increases continue to be issued in St. Bernard Parish by DEQ without requiring updated pollution controls.
When sulfur dioxide combines with particulate matter, it alters the lung defenses and causes breathing problems, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. It can lead to premature death.
Hydrogen sulfide levels have been high as well. Exposure to lower concentrations of hydrogen sulfide causes eye irritation, sore throat, cough, nausea, shortness of breath, and fluid in the lungs. Long-term, low-level exposure causes fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, poor memory, dizziness, loss of teeth and anemia. It affects the nervous system and cellular respiration.
Residents of St. Bernard Parish are frequently exposed to hydrogen sulfide readings that fail to meet the EPA recommend daily exposure limit of 1.4 ppb (0.0014 ppm). EPA’s intermediate exposure level to this poisonous gas is 20 ppb; the acute exposure level is 70 ppb. The State of California health limit for hydrogen sulfide is 30 ppb; Louisiana has no such limit.
For the year 2012, some of the higher hydrogen sulfide readings at Ch_Vista were 62 ppb, 53 ppb, and 49 ppb. Valero Energy's monitor's highest reading for 2012 was 78 ppb. The highest reading at DEQ's Meraux monitor was 40 ppb.
In December 2012 alone, the DEQ's monitor in Chalmette Vista had high readings of hydrogen sulfide at 18 ppb (Dec 9th), 21 ppb (Dec 16th), and 29 ppb (Dec 10th & Dec 17th).
This Chamlette Vista monitor is located at a neighborhood playground. DEQ does not issue community alerts when pollution levels are high. The only time DEQ issued community alerts for air quality in St Bernard Parish was in the January marsh fire or for Ozone Action Days, when ground level ozone was expected to cause health concerns.