Some of the equipment and crews needed to remove dangerous chemicals from St. Croix’s oil refinery are on island but others were delayed by the train derailment and chemical spill in Ohio, officials said Tuesday.
Although the shipping containers needed to remove the liquified petroleum gas and ammonia are in place at the refinery, the work has been delayed a month, with work now scheduled to start in early May, said Lisa Garcia, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator.
Port Hamilton, which owns the refinery, told the EPA the delay was because its contractor, Boise, ID-based U.S. Ecology, was part of the emergency response team cleaning up the East Palestine, OH derailment that released vinyl chloride, benzene, and other highly hazardous chemicals Feb. 3, Garcia said.
That same equipment, part of U.S. Ecology’s Specialized Response Solutions, was sent back to the company’s Texas offices March 1 to be prepared for shipment to St. Croix.
“That work has now ended but they need additional time to secure, service and ship their equipment that was used in
Ohio. This equipment is anticipated to arrive in St. Croix in mid-April,” she said during a second public briefing Tuesday night.
In December, the EPA ordered Port Hamilton to remove toxic chemicals stored at the refinery on St. Croix’s south shore. A September report found the plant was in dangerous state of disrepair.
The eight air monitoring stations are up and running, as is the real-time air monitoring website, Garcia said. The site has information on air quality and work underway in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
The EPA monitored as Port Hamilton and U.S. Ecology completed repairs to the ammonia system. Work was finished March 20. Detailed planning on how the ammonia will be safely removed is planned for next week, said Douglas Kodama, an EPA on-scene coordinator and superfund specialist.
Equipment used to remove the ammonia is scheduled to arrive in mid-April, Kodama said, with actual transfer of the ammonia to the shipping containers to start on May 1.
The hydrogen-sulfide amines are scheduled to be removed last, he said, by another contractor, Norwell, MA-based Clean Harbors. The company has been on island, inspecting the refinery’s amines system to find the safest removal points since mid-March.
“Repairs to the amines systems have been initiated but are not completed,” Kodama said.
At least 55 shipping containers needed to transfer the amines are scheduled to arrive in April, he said.
The schedule could be revised, and timeline updated, if it was safe to do so, Kodama said. A new proposed schedule is expected from Port Hamilton Monday.
Another contractor, East Green Brook, NJ-based RTP Environmental Associates, is preparing air permits for the LPG and amines removal, Kodama said.
The EPA also plans to hold an in-person question and answer session in St. Croix in April, Garcia said.
Daryl Jaschen, director of Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management, said 19 agencies took part in a four-hour tabletop exercise looking for areas to improve. Some of the agencies were obvious first responders — fire and police services — while others were involved because they had offices within two miles of the refinery.
Walter Mugden, an EPA deputy regional administrator, said the chemical removal would likely stretch into June and possibly July — hurricane season. He said a close eye will be kept on any potential storms.
“We will be very very carefully monitoring that. If there is threat of a hurricane work will be suspended,” Mugden said.