Open forum — St. Croix
Clearing the Air on St. Croix
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark! What this means is something is fishy in Paradise and there are more perplexing questions than answers.
Have all the culprits of the mysterious odor in Paradise been discovered? What exactly caused numerous residents to get ill and resulted in St. Croix Central High school being dismissed between May 10 and May 12, 2011? Could there have been a combination of factors, including an unusual weather condition (meteorological inversion), that created a mystery fume?
I am not satisfied that the mystery has been solved. An investigation of the problem by DPNR determined there were three different odors. Interestingly tough, the level of toxic gases in the air during May 10 to May 12 did not exceed the standard that would result in an environmental and health violation.
Definitely, the odors in St. Croix air May 10-12 were noxious enough to be detected by our senses and make people sick. Yet, according to Hovensa there was no oil spill or flare outage until Friday, May 13, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that there was no elevated levels of "volatile organic compounds" that "in the long term, pose a concern for public health." Moreover, Diageo has denied being responsible for malodorous odors during the times schools had to be closed. Is there any proof that either of these factories had an environmental accident during the three days in question? Does either of them have a reason to cover-up an unfortunate incident that could be linked to heavy downpour of rain?
It is easy to put the blame exclusively on Hovensa and Diageo. However, is it possible that there were other sources for the offensive odor? Again, both Hovensa and Diageo reported that incidents that could have produced offensive odors did not take place until after Thursday, May12. How credible are these two companies?
Through the process of elimination, DPNR concluded that the oil refinery was the sole culprit in the emission of poisonous gases. To many, the oil refinery is public enemy #1. Hovensa's "foul" environmental history certainly has damaged its image. Multiple violations in 2010 and in January of this year caused it to be fined, and now the oil refinery has to adopt stringent emission limits and must upgrade the plant to prevent environmental disasters.
The consent decree came before May 10 and it is assumed Hovensa was being extra cautious in avoiding further penalties. I am not accusing the oil refinery of any environmental violation, but it should be noted that some substances detected during the critical three days are identical to those documented as causing illness earlier this year and the previous year.
As this moment, the smelly problem seems to be somewhat under control. Therefore, it is not necessary to respond in a hysterical manner. In my opinion, the relocation of schools and residents is not a sensible solution. It is not feasible to dismantle or relocate Diageo to eliminate the smell of rotten molasses. Abruptly closing down Hovensa is even more impractical. Further, none of these action will address the "stench" that emanates in other areas of St. Croix, such as the pungent gas smell in the vicinity of Questa Verde.
Imagine a cleaner, greener and healthier Paradise. Isn't there a way we could strive for environmental utopia here? Why not explore technology to improve monitoring of environmental hazards in Paradise?
Utopia is elusive and it is a challenge to maintain an environment free of pollutants. Nevertheless, I'll breathe easier once the "air" is cleared concerning this unpleasant environmental matter and the culprit(s) acknowledged being the source of the sickening fumes on St. Croix. Sincerely,
Verdel L. Petersen