Around 2AM on Monday, September 6th, at power outage at the Chalmette Refinery near New Orleans, LA allowed one ton of spent refining catalyst to be released into the air. Once airborne, the white, powdery substance covered homes and properties in Chalmette, Arabi and the Lower Ninth Ward. Residents woke up Monday morning to find homes, cars, personal items and properties covered in the spent catalyst. On September 8th, Neblett, Beard & Arsenault filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of those affected by the chemical spill.
Spent catalyst powder, a bi-product of the oil refining process, is a potentially harmful and hazardous substance. It is a known eye, skin and respiratory irritant, and is especially harmful to those with respiratory conditions. Catalyst powder contains kaolin, a clay-like substance, and amounts of more hazardous ingredients, including titanium oxide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists spent catalysts as a hazardous waste, which must be disposed of under strict guidelines.
Chalmette Refinery initially downplayed the serious nature of their pollution, and encouraged residents to clean up the substance themselves. However, information from a Material Safety Data Sheet states the catalyst powder can be harmful if inhaled or ingested. It urges people to protect themselves from exposure the chemicals and to use rubber gloves while handling the product. The data sheet also encourages individuals to decontaminate or dispose of clothing items, shoes, etc. exposed to the catalyst powder.
Many residents – including those with young children – are deeply concerned about the safety of their properties and items, such as children’s toys, that may have been contaminated by the catalyst chemicals.
St. Bernard Parish officials are investigating the incident. However, many are concerned about the potential health effects of the chemical release.