The Environmental Protection Agency administrator for Region 2, Lisa Garcia, with a cadre of environmental experts, told an audience of around 100 people that potentially harmful chemicals are being removed from the St. Croix refinery. She also spoke about reports of foul odors in the area at the town hall Thursday evening at the American Legion Hall in Frederiksted.
The discovery of the chemicals followed a fire at the refinery in August 2022 that triggered an EPA investigation in September, Garcia said. As a result, the owner, Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, was ordered to repair faulty equipment and remove ammonia, liquified petroleum gas and liquid amines containing hydrogen sulfide from the site.
Using a private contractor approved by the EPA, the removal of the chemicals began at the end of April. According to Garcia, removal is underway, watched by EPA monitors with input from some V.I. agencies, such as the Health Department, V.I Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
So far, the removal of amines continues with 26 of a possible 61 containers ready to be shipped off-island, with the remaining ready to ship by the end of June, the administrator said.
The removal of 8,400 gallons of ammonia, which can be reused, and 7,000 gallons of water containing ammonia was completed in mid-May. Both are being stored in containers at the refinery for disposal.
Removal of the LPG started May 31 and is ongoing, Garcia said.
VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen said some of the containers have already been shipped and generally speaking, most will ship 30-40 days after they have arrived at the dock.
“There seems to be a correlation between days we’ve received complaints and the transfer and loading and discharge activity at the marine loading dock involving gasoline, jet fuel and No. 6 oil,” she said before introducing Josie Martin, Regional 2 EPA coordinator of air monitoring.
Martin explained the 24-hour air monitoring process at and around the refinery can be accessed at phrt-epa.hub.arcgix.com. The data is live, 24/7 and a graphic explains the nature of alerts that are broadcast by VITEMA.
Neighborhoods with air quality monitors include Kingshill, Enfield Green, Strawberry Hill, Herbert Grigg Home, the Church of Christ School, the Frederiksted fire station as well as the fence line and interior of the refinery.
The EPA monitors will be removed when all of the chemicals have been removed but Jean-Pierre Oriol, DPNR commissioner, said new monitors will be installed before refining begins.
Oriol added that there is no national standard for odors and that each state determines the thresholds, not the EPA. He explained that the presence of an “odor in itself is actually not against the law.”
Audience members asked a variety of questions and a few expressed skepticism about the trustworthiness of the refinery owners, including Sen. Franklin Johnson. In response to the senator, Oriol said that since the air monitor reporting is real-time, it would be difficult to manipulate the data.
Others questioned why representatives from the refinery weren’t included in the town hall.
In response to another question, Garcia said there were no other chemicals to worry about on the site.
One resident asked why the refinery can’t be designated a superfund site by EPA since the territory has no recourse to the “environmental injustice” imposed by the presence of the refinery. Garcia said the EPA does not have a role in superfund sites.
“This is not an abandoned site. We have to work within the confines of our rules,” she said.
The EPA hotline will continue after the chemicals are removed, to report any environmental issues. Contact Zeno Bain, community contact, email@example.com or call 866-462-4789.