By Peter Jenkins
Tubal Cain Marine Services, a Texas based company, has applied for an operating license from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Their goal is to open a barge cleaning facility on the riverside on the Baton Rouge Levee.
The proposed facility will clean barges of toxic gases and chemicals. Because of the specific nature of what has to be cleaned from these barges, the facility must attain a minor source air permit because of how the chemicals and gasses will be disposed.
Yearly levels of chemicals to be released are estimated at 3.3 tons of benzene, 1.3 tons of chloroform, 0.7 tons of styrene, 1.3 tons of 1,2-dichloroethan, and 1.3 tons of vinyl acetate, according to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
The question hanging of many concerned citizens’ heads: what do these chemicals mean for the local environment? According to worldwide watchdogs, it could spell danger for BR.
“Human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer and aplastic anaemia,” the World Health Organization said. And if you ask the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, benzene isn’t the only harmful chemical being released.
“Chloroform lasts for a long time in both the air and in groundwater. Most chloroform in the air eventually breaks down, but this process is slow. The breakdown products in air include phosgene, which is more toxic than chloroform, and hydrogen chloride, which is also toxic,” the agency said.
Once the chemicals and gases are cleaned from the facility, they are to be temporarily stored in ten 15,000-gallon tanks. Toxic gases will be burnt off through the use of a flare, but if the gasses reach 34,000 ppm or 50 percent of the lower explosive limit, the company plans to release those gases into the atmosphere directly, without burning them off.
This plan has some Baton Rouge citizens upset. A petition started by local Barbara Kincannon two weeks ago has already garnered over a thousand signatures and has been picking up steam.
Kincannon started the petition because the proposed area contains a bald eagle’s nest that would have to be removed if the cleaning facility is built at the proposed location. Since then, more information regarding the facility has been brought forth, and concern is growing.
One of the most vocal opponents to this facility is Dr. Lillian Bridwell-Bowles, an English professor at LSU.
“It’s important to me because we need zoning in Louisiana that protects schools,” Bridwell-Bowles said. She also voiced concerns about the facility being so close to her home.
“If it were just one neighborhood (mine), I think others could just write us off as yet another blighted area which would encourage developers to build more suburbs,” Bridwell-Bowles said.
In the past few days, complaints of residents like Bridwell-Bowles have urged Metro Council members Chandler Loupe and John Delgado to sponsor a proposal that would redistrict the current location proposed for the barge cleaning facility and similarly districted locations. The proposal would now allow ventures like the barge cleaning facility in these spaces.
Bridwell-Bowles and others, including state legislators and a variety of local elected leaders, are supportive of this redistricting plan. Tubal Cain Marine services representatives declined to comment on the redistricting or health related concerns.
Beyond this specific project, this seems to be shaping up into concern for the permit process currently being used by the DEQ. Facilities such as the proposed barge cleaning facility are self-regulated, meaning that they report their activities to the government. DEQ does not send people into facilities to audit them or to check to make sure that they are complying with the regulations. The current process takes companies at their word when it comes to reporting and this is an area that some have begun to call into question. Some advocate more scrutiny for these companies to ensure that they are telling the truth when it comes to what they are reporting.
In the coming weeks, DEQ will be hosting a public hearing about this facility on Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Oliver Pollock Room in the Galvez Building at 602 N 5th St. The Baton Rouge Metro Council could vote on the redistricting of the space on August 19th at their regularly scheduled weekly meetings.