Irish Channel residents say they’re exposed to “toxic fumes” from a chemical plant in the Westbank

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HARVEY, La. — Luke Auld-Thomas has lived in the Irish Channel for several years, he says he loves his  neighborhood, but is concerned for his health.

“I want to stop having to worry when I open my door in the morning if I’m going to be blasted in the face with carcinogenic compounds, emanating from a large facility across the river that has no business being in the center of the state’s largest population,” said Auld-Thomas.

Auld-Thomas is talking about BWC Harvey, a bulk liquid storage and transportation facility located across the Mississippi River.

Auld-Thomas and other members of JOIN (Jefferson, Orleans and Irish Channel Neighbors) for Clean Air Coalition came together to create an investigative report of the emissions coming from the Westbank.

“We are trying to resolve this for all of these people, like tens of thousands of residents are here on the Westbank, and on the east bank, and they don’t feel they have a voice,” said Corine De Zeeuw, member of JOIN for Clean Air.

The report says that since 2018, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has identified BWC Harvey as a potential source of at least 850 toxic odor complaints, representing more than 150 households.

The report also states that these complaints began to surge in November 2019, five months after BWC Harvey secured an LDEQ permit approval for major expansion.

BWC says they are neither a primary or sole source of the odors and fumes.

In this graph provided by BWC, their operations are in yellow. They are one of five facilities within a two mile radius of the Irish Channel, all with similar operations.

BWC provided us with a statement that reads in part:

BWC Harvey Terminal has operated safely and without environmental irregularities since its start-up in early 2015.  The insinuation that BWC Harvey Terminal is either a primary or sole source of odors on the East Bank of Orleans Parish has no basis.  The claims are directly refuted by both the terminal’s track record of safe and environmentally sound operations and the June 2021 Irish Channel Odors Investigation report by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).”

JOIN for Clean Air provided this graph that shows where the odor complaints are coming from. Approximately 75,000 people live inside of the red boundary, 15,000 of them are children. The areas with the light coloring is where a majority of these complaints are coming from.

Last week, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution asking the EPA and Governor John Bel Edwards to suspend BWC Harvey’s pollution permit for review.

LDEQ also provided us with a statement that reads:

Although the BWC Blackwater, LLC Harvey facility is properly permitted, the LDEQ has responded to all odor complaints in the Irish Channel. The LDEQ has actively investigated all potential sources of odors that might impact these areas.

LDEQ has been communicating with EPA regarding the residents’ concerns and that we are also working with EPA to make sure that the facility is in compliance. LDEQ is in contact with citizens in the Irish Channel area and the agency will continue to investigate all complaints.

 In addition, the LDEQ is in the process of siting an air monitoring station in the Irish Channel in an effort to address the citizens’ concerns. The results of the investigations, as well as information on the monitor, are detailed in the attached report. The LDEQ asks that this statement and the attached report be in the placed into the record associated with Draft Resolution No. R-21-239.”

For a look at JOIN for Clean Air’s full report, click here.

For a look at LDEQ’s June report, click here.

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