Thursday, September 13, 2012

Possible Contamination from Stolthaven Chemical Facility, Braithwaite, LA

The NOAA aerial survey imagery shot in the wake of Hurricane Isaac really is helpful for assessing storm impacts.  Here's another example, showing the flooded Stolthaven chemical facility along the Mississippi River near Braithwaite, Louisiana.  Someone - we think it must be the company, based on the wording -  filed a pollution incident report with the National Response Center on September 11. This report popped up in our handy SkyTruth Alerts system; it claims nearly 200,000 gallons of chemicals were released, mostly ethylene glycol but including several other nasty things like styrene, xylene and cancer-causing benzene.

Nearby residents have been evacuated, and some have filed suit against the company. 

Here's what the facility looked like when NOAA flew over on August 31:

NOAA aerial survey photography showing flooded Stolthaven chemical facility near Braithwaite, LA on August 31.
Focusing on the northwest end of the site, we can see what appear to be slicks and/or sheen, possibly oil or other chemicals, originating from the round storage tanks and flowing downstream toward homes along English Turn Road:

Slicks and sheen apparently migrating downstream from the Stolthaven facility (lower right) toward flooded homes (upper left).

The flooding derailed tanker cars, damaged storage tanks, and caused other problems on the site.  On a Gulf Monitoring Consortium overflight on September 10, photographer Jeffrey Dubinsky captured a series of low-altitude pics illustrating some of this damage, like this storage tank apparently pushed off its supporting foundation:

Air photo of Stolthaven chemical facility taken during Gulf Monitoring Consortium overflight on September 10, 2012, courtesy of Jeffrey Dubinsky.  See more of Jeffrey's pics from this flight here.

Jonathan Henderson from Gulf Restoration Network was also on the flight, and caught some great pics too, including this closeup of the dislodged tank:

Another view of the dislodged tank, courtesy of Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network (see more of his pics from the September 10 overflight).

Isaac was certainly a big storm, but clocked in as a relatively mild Category 1 hurricane.  You would think that by now, major industrial facilities planted in the middle of Hurricane Alley would be better able to withstand such predictable storm exposure. But I guess you'd be wrong....


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