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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsLocal newsSTX Residents Concerned About Dangerous Chemicals at Refinery

STX Residents Concerned About Dangerous Chemicals at Refinery

Walter Mugdan answered most of the questions for the EPA. (Photo from Facebook Livestream)

Residents peppered Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration representatives Thursday at a virtual town hall about what they called a “dangerous situation” at the St. Croix refinery.

Earlier this month, EPA told the owners of the refinery they must hire experts to safely remove dangerous chemicals stored at the plant and remedy shortfalls that made keeping the materials unsafe. Some of the 90 residents attending the Zoom meeting posted questions on Zoom Chat; others watching it on a Facebook Livestream posted comments there. Questions ranged over broad areas but most focused on potential threats to the health and safety of nearby residents.

Jane Williams, chair for the Sierra Club National Clean Air Team and a member of the panel, gave residents little comfort as she said the EPA report showed “one of the most dangerous situations I have seen.” She said the chemicals needed to be removed as soon as possible.

Walter Mugdan, representing EPA, said Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation had responded last week with a list of contractors who could remove the chemicals, and on Wednesday, the EPA approved the list. The contractors must now get a plan back to the EPA within 30 days.

Mugdan said the process of removing the chemicals could begin in late January or early February. According to the EPA, the refinery “houses more than 40,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, which is poisonous, flammable, and highly corrosive,” and piping and valves used to handle more than 37,000 pounds of liquified petroleum gas “are in an advanced state of corrosion and disrepair.”

Williams and a couple of residents asked whether EPA could just remove the chemicals. Mugdan said EPA would do so if the owners could not, but it was the owners’ responsibility and there was no indication that they would not do it.

A week after EPA’s report, OSHA on Dec. 12 issued a release saying first responders at the oil refinery on St. Croix’s south shore might not have access to emergency equipment or even know what to do if they had it. Richard Mendelson, representing OSHA Thursday, said the refinery had not been cited. He said his agency had received a response to a notice sent to the refinery last week, but the response had not yet been evaluated.

In November, EPA told Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation it must obtain a new comprehensive Clean Air Act permit before it can restart the St. Croix refinery. Mugdan said the new permit would guarantee that the refinery was using the best anti-pollution technology available. He added that the process could take up to three years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The owners of the refinery have stated that they would like to start refining oil next year.

The town hall’s theme was “Ensuring A Safe St. Croix: Status of the Oil Refinery and Next Steps.” It was organized by the St. Croix Foundation Nonprofit Consortium Environs Sector. It was the fourth in its “Engage V.I.” series. Nonprofit Consortium Environs Sector members include the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, St. Croix Environmental Association, Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, Inc., and the V.I. Good Food Coalition.

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