Jackson County

EPA to take a second look at Chevron; advocates say refinery didn't follow law on notification

PASCAGOULA -- The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to send representatives out of Atlanta to look at the notification process Chevron's Pascagoula Refinery used during a recent incident where a spill and tank-lid failure sent fumes into surrounding communities.

Earl Etheridge, Jackson County's director of Emergency Management, said he was notified of EPA's intent, but doesn't know when they will actually arrive. He said he was copied on a string of emails.

He said industry is supposed to have a plan.

"You spilled this, who did you notify and when?" These are the questions that the refinery will answer when EPA Atlanta comes, he said.

The lid failure occurred during the heavy rains Sept. 27. Chevron notified some people in a neighborhood near the refinery on Sept. 28 and sent a press release to the public at 4 p.m. Sept. 29. By that time, communities in South Alabama and law enforcement on Dauphin Island were calling Jackson County Emergency Management asking about the heavy smell of gas and if it was dangerous.

Some time between Sept. 28 and the night of Sept. 29, the refinery discovered an 8-foot gash in the tank that caused 4,200 gallons of a gasoline blend stock to spill. The spill was contained on the grounds and the flammable material covered with foam.

Etheridge said it is the responsibility of the industry to release information about what product was released and potential health risks. He said it's a law that dates back to 1986, created after a deadly industrial accident in India.

Jennifer Crosslin cited that law (SARA Title III) when she told Jackson County supervisors Monday that there "was confusion around the incident" and that the refinery did not meet the letter of the law.

Crosslin is with the STEPS Coalition and has been working with the neighborhood closest to the refinery, where people heard alarms and experienced strong smells two days before formal notification went out. The neighbors called the wrong people for answers, she said.

Then at a Wednesday press conference after the incident, Chevron still failed to supply information that it was legally required to share, she told county supervisors -- what the chemical is and the potential health risk.

Chevron said in a press release Tuesday and at the press conference Wednesday that no one was injured at the refinery and that the odor posed to threat to the community.

In an email to supervisors and other regulatory agencies, she said, she was glad the refinery was able to safely remove the flammable product from the tank, "However, the potential threat to the nearby community is cause to notify them of the danger of not only the 'odor issue' but of the potential threat of an explosion due to moving the highly flammable contents of the 4 million gallon storage tank."

"The community should be made aware of any potential symptoms they may have as a result of exposure and of a number they should contact if they are experiencing any of these symptoms," she wrote.