In 2008, Blackwater Midstream quietly opened in Westwego. It was so quiet that Jefferson Parish officials didn’t even know about it.
When Blackwater purchased the former NuStar Terminals plant along the Mississippi River, Westwego City Councilmember Larry Warino said the city “found out from a magazine,” according to a NOLA.com article from the same year.
Despite local opposition, in 2014, Blackwater, which describes itself as a bulk liquid storage business, again expanded operations to a 56-acre tank farm in Harvey.
Blackwater, which specializes in storage of caustic sodas, acids, fertilizers, petroleum products, and other chemicals, claims that they handle storage in “an environmentally responsible manner.”
But in February of 2009, the plant had two leaks of sulfuric acid, which prompted Westwego officials to issue a moratorium on local expansion plans.
During the moratorium, Westwego City Councilman Glenn Green criticized the company for not advising the city of their plans earlier.
Now, in 2020, Blackwater may once again be trying to expand its operations with as little fanfare as possible, prompting a local organization to launch an online petition against their efforts.
An organization called JOIN (Jefferson-Orleans-Irish Channel Neighbors) for Clean Air launched a petition calling for a public hearing on a recent Air Permit Application with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ). The permit already has close to 1,000 signatures.
According to the petition, Blackwater wants to start making Creosote Petroleum Solution, a chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency has listed as a “probable carcinogen.” In 1984, the EPA considered a wide ban of creosote. The European Union has banned creosote for all but professional and industrial use, but even then it remains strictly regulated and is considered toxic and harmful.
While the largest risk of cancer from creosote is associated with fires, it can leak into soil, groundwater, and air – causing breathing irritation if inhaled, and death if consumed in large enough quantities. According to residents, the facility is already responsible for noxious odors.
One petition signer said that the stench in the area has grown increasingly worse in the past two months. Another said she cannot be out past 11 at night, because the smell makes her so sick.
Big Easy Magazine searched the directory of recent LDEQ permit applications and found a pending permit by Blackwater Harvey, filed on June 9, 2020.
It is unclear whether this new activity will pose a direct risk to members of the community. But residents are concerned, given the company’s mixed safety history. Many already suffer negative consequences from odors from the industrial facilities on the Mississippi River.
According to the petition, there are 59,000 residents, two schools, and five playgrounds within two miles of the facility.
The petition also claims that the LDEQ has received over 100 complaints about toxic odors near the Blackwater facility. Big Easy Magazine was unable to identify complaints on the state website. However, the comments on the petition website echoed this claim.
Andy, who also signed the petition, said that “the stench in the Garden District occasionally causes myself and my neighbors to experience severe nausea.” Jane expressed concern that “the toxic smells are often quite bad.”
“I live here and am regularly disturbed by chemical smells coming from the direction of the Mississippi River,” said one east bank resident.
“This place gasses toxic fumes right into my neighborhood,” said another signee.
Another resident said that she already suffers with migraines from the facility’s fumes.
Petition supporters also expressed concern that the LDEQ and Blackwater did not have the health of their communities in mind and were solely interested in profit.
“I don’t trust the State of Louisiana to be transparent about the potential risks of the Blackwater plant. I think a public hearing is essential,” said Christopher G.
“I can’t believe that during an apparently endless respiratory pandemic that we’d consider even for a moment allowing anyone to turn a buck while putting the entire metro area’s health at risk,” said Gina.
“I cannot even believe we have to talk about this!”
Blackwater was unavailable for comment on this matter.
You can view the JOIN for Clean Air petition here.