LA. Bucket Brigade: accidents down, pollution up at refineries

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State refineries are reporting fewer accidents, but an environmental watch dog group says pollution from those plants is up. While oil and gas leaders dispute the figures, neighbors in Baton Rouge say they know the air is being polluted because they're getting sick.

Leaks, spills and explosions at refineries around Louisiana are tracked by a group called the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

"We're tracking their accidents," said Anna Hrybyk, Program Manager with the Bucket Brigade. "So these are what they call upsets, what's above and beyond what they're permitted to pollute."

Hrybyk says in 2011, the state's 17 plants reported 301 accidents. She says 98 of those came from Exxon Mobile, in Baton Rouge.

"Some of these were double counted or non-threatening releases, but they have to be reported," said Chris John, President of Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

Hrybyk says there are fewer accidents, but the level of pollution is growing.

"I have to have a gas mask - five of them, to protect my family the best that I know how from chemicals that these plants releasing," said Shirley Bowman. Bowman and her neighbors live near Exxon Mobile. Bowman is convinced the plant is releasing more fumes, because they are getting sick more often.

"Give you headaches. In fact yesterday I had an ambulance come out and pick me up because I started feeling faint, dizzy and couldn't breathe," said Bowman.

The Bucket Brigade says through a public records request they received a copy of a spill report from the plant. According to the paperwork, in September Exxon Mobile reported an oil spill that was, "inexceedance of the reportable quantities for oil to soil, benzene, naphthalene and voc." All of which Hrybyk says are causes of cancer.

"Whether it's from EPA, DEQ, we take each incident and go through with fine tooth comb. What happened and why. Some are avoidable, some not," said John. He says they take each incident seriously.

John's also points out the reports and figures used by the Bucket Brigade are often inflated, using data the industry does not agree with. He says when there is an incident it is phoned in, that starts a report. From that report stems other reports, all dealing with the same initial incident. Some of the reports are double or triple counted, he says.

For Bowman, she awaits the day she no longer feels the need to keep this mask nearby.

Copyright 2012 WAFB. All rights reserved.