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HomeNewsLocal newsEPA Updates Community on Chemical Removal at St. Croix Refinery

EPA Updates Community on Chemical Removal at St. Croix Refinery

EPA officials told the community during a Zoom meeting Wednesday that most of the potentially harmful chemicals found at the former Limetree Bay Refinery, discovered after a fire in August 2022, have been removed and the remaining should be off the island by the end of July.

Christopher Jimenez, deputy regional incident coordinator, said that the EPA and a technical assistance contractor have overseen the entire operation since the beginning.

Christopher Jimenez, EPA deputy regional incident coordinator, talks about chemicals removed from the St. Croix refinery. (Zoom screenshot)

So far, 8,400 gallons of ammonia have been removed from the site and shipped to Texas in June in two specifically designed containers. The ammonia rinse remains at the refinery location.

“While we no longer need to monitor for ammonia because the ammonia has been removed, we will continue to monitor for other chemicals. So far, we have not found a problem,” Lisa Garcia, EPA Region 2 administrator, said.

Lisa Garcia, EPA Region 2 administrator, thanks retiring Walter Mugdan for his years of service. (Zoom screenshot)

The second chemical, 328,000 gallons of liquid and vapor amines — a derivative of ammonia — has been removed and treated on-site and all but two containers were shipped to Texas. The remaining two of the 63 containers should leave St. Croix by the end of July, Jimenez said. The amines rinse, which is scrubbed and contains “very low levels” of amines, remains on the island until a disposal plan is formulated within the next week or so.

The third chemical, liquid petroleum gas, is almost halfway contained and shipped, but more containers were needed. The project has been paused until July 18, when three more containers will be filled. Then the additional 15,000 gallons of LPG will be contained in around two weeks. The containers will remain at the port for the required 10 days before being shipped to Texas — “sometime in the middle of August.”

The EPA officials also addressed future air monitoring once the EPA is finished with the clean-up — a concern of citizens at the last meeting in June.

Walter Mugdan, deputy regional administrator for the EPA, said the monitoring is and will be constant until the chemicals have been removed.

Walter Mugdan, deputy regional administrator for the EPA, talks about the St. Croix refinery Wednesday. (Zoom screenshot)

After that, he pointed out that the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources will continue to conduct a federal reference monitor for very fine particulate matter at Bethlehem Village.

Additionally, new refinery owner Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation will monitor the air for sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide using EPA-required monitors. They have five locations around St. Croix and the EPA checks the information from the monitors daily, Mugdan said.

“They’re obligated to do this monitoring and they’re doing it,” he said.

Also, a federal stipulation with Limetree Bay Refining in July 2021 requires Port Hamilton also to sign on to the stipulation. It requires the company to provide the EPA with a plan 90 days prior to restarting the refinery and begin monitoring 30 days before the start-up.

“We continue to be in conversations with DPNR about other possible monitoring capabilities that DPNR or perhaps the University of the Virgin Islands might be able to acquire and carry out through grant funding opportunities that EPA has available on a national basis,” he said.

Referring back to a question from the June town hall meeting, Mugdan said the EPA will consider designating St. Croix as a superfund site to access funding for cleanup and rebuilding. He said it is a long process and starts with a site assessment. The EPA is planning a future meeting for those who are interested in the program.

Also mentioned at the last meeting were “once in a lifetime” federal funding possibilities. Mugdan said federal funds through the Climate Pollution Reduction Act can be granted for monitoring, sewage treatment and clean water production. He suggested the V.I. Water and Power Authority, Waste Management Authority, UVI, DPNR and non-governmental organizations apply for funds.

While speaking about funds available for cleaning up the refinery, Mugdan pointed out that former owner Hovensa was required to fund a trust with “hundreds of millions of dollars” for clean up when polluted groundwater was discovered. He said that obligation is ongoing and will be available for “the foreseeable future.”

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