|Residents close to a chemical plant |
have been getting sick, they say.
The inspector’s vivid account is one of dozens from an inspection that year that yielded a biting administrative order from the EPA to the company, using the words “imminent and substantial” danger when referring to the possible impact on human health or the environment.
The federal agency ordered the company to fix uncontrolled leaks and spills of sulfuric acid on its grounds, and stop untreated discharges to the adjacent bayou and uncontrolled spills and leaks of phosphoric acid to unlined ditches.
The agency found more issues in 2011, and in 2012, reinforced its orders to clean up.
Then last year, the state Department of Environmental Quality shut down two plants at the fertilizer manufacturer because they were creating an acid mist that caused neighboring industry to evacuate workers.
All the while, a neighborhood less than a mile away says it was unaware of the reports. Cherokee Forest has 132 homes along heavily industrialized Bayou Casotte in east Pascagoula, where several industries contribute heavily to air emissions.
Residents have been complaining in recent years about thick dust, strong acrid smells and health problems.
They’ve told regulators what’s in the air and what’s on the ground at neighboring industry is coming into their yards, onto their cars, onto their skin and into their lungs.
The company says it has fixed its problems from the 2009 inspection.
“EPA conducted a final compliance inspection in October 2010 and confirmed that MPC had implemented all the corrective action items addressed in the 2009 order,” it said in a statement to the Sun Herald.
Over the last five years, MPC has continued to invest in its operation and environmental programs and work with the EPA and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to ensure future environmental compliance at the facility.”
So what’s the significance of the EPA inspector’s boot?
Howard Page, a community coordinator with the STEPS Coalition in Biloxi, who helped organize the neighborhood into a group, said although Mississippi Phosphates has made improvements, he believes the story of the acid puddle is relevant today.
“It shows how very real the threat is,” Page said. “It’s not the most recent event; things the company has been cited for and had to correct. But it captures the issue — how strong that acid is.
“If it does that to a boot, just imagine what it does when you’re breathing it as a mist. It’s a concrete example of what people are facing, not just odors or a possible concern.”
Mississippi Phosphates said it pledged more than $2.5 million to cleanup what the EPA found in 2009, has made other improvements and more recently has offered air monitors in the neighborhood to detect sulfuric acid.
But Page said he believes the chronic history of problems, “not one or two times, but a long series of incidents” presents a health threat to workers and nearby residents.
He said there’s a need to control the risk to workers and neighbors.
“The process they operate there that involves acid is a potentially dangerous process if it’s not managed and overseen well,” he said.
Page said one issue for the neighborhood has been substantiating their complaints. And though other industries are putting dust and chemicals in the air, remarks of trained EPA inspectors at Mississippi Phosphates in the 2009 report sound familiar to residents:
- “the sampling team tasted a metallic flavor in the air that permeated to the back of the throat. Sampling team members complained of burning, stinging and itchy skin and eyes. The metallic taste remained with EPA personnel for at least two days after leaving the site.”
- “The ongoing inhalation of sulfuric acid mist may pose substantial harm to personnel at and visitors to the facility.”
- “The effects of discharges . extend far beyond the initial discharge zone, reaching to the other side of Bayou Casotte, and far into the commercial turning basin (of the bayou).”
- “Low pH liquids facilitate the mobilization of metals such as arsenic, cadmium and chromium. Metals are readily leached from the soils and or sediment into groundwater upon contact with a solution of pH less than 3.5.” The puddle one inspector stepped in had a pH of less than 2 (the company’s permit allows a range of 6 to 9).
Source: Hattisburg American
Concerned about the air quality at work or in your area? Electrocorp offers industrial-strength air purification units with activated carbon and HEPA that help provide cleaner and more breathable air, removing airborne chemicals, vapors, gases, odors, particles, dust and more. Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.