EPA withdraws Limetree permit

EPA withdraws Limetree permit

The Limetree Refinery on St. Croix has announced that it will purge gases this weekend at the troubled facility as part of the ongoing process of shutting it down.

A coalition of scientists and community leaders are urging all St. Croix residents to take a survey on the various impacts caused by recent oil sprays and noxious chemical flares during Limetree Bay refinery’s ill-fated restart attempt.

“In the aftermath of a series of incidents at the refinery, people residing and working on the western quadrant of St. Croix expressed their concerns on social media, talk radio and print media covering the events. This survey will be the first community based, data collection effort that is of, for and by the people,” said Frandelle Gerard, executive director of the Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, or CHANT. “Information is power and our community deserves accurate unbiased data.”

The online survey, announced during a news conference Thursday morning, is the first effort at documenting the true extent of the refinery’s pollution, which has contaminated drinking water and food crops.

Farmers in particular are encouraged to take the survey and help quantify the impact on the island’s agriculture.

“Historically farmers in this community have been overlooked when it comes to disaster and disaster recovery,” said Sommer Sibilly, executive director of the VI Good Food Coalition. “The fact is, a significant number of farms are situated in the west and northwest of the refinery, placing them squarely in the range of the incident pattern. No one is really talking about that. There are processes for remediating roofs and cars and cisterns. Who is checking our food, our soil, and our groundwater?”

David Bond, professor at Bennington College and associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, urged residents to take part in the online survey.

“Whether you’ve smelled sulphurous gases or had a headache or eye irritation, whether you’ve found an oily film in your cistern or on your vegetables or on your car, whether you’ve had trouble breathing or whether you’ve experienced no impacts at all, we want to hear from you. Please grab your cellphone, go online, and take four minutes to fill out this survey. The success of this survey depends on your participation,” Bond said.

Bond said he’s been researching St. Croix’s refinery and others like it in the Caribbean for years, and reached out to local community leaders to help compile data on the pollution’s community effect.

“There was a real need and people in the community were asking for better information, and that information wasn’t forthcoming. None of us wanted to do this survey,” he said.

Things could have been different, he added noting “if the refinery had been following the law” and operating air monitoring equipment the need for such a survey could have been avoided, and “if state agencies had actually exerted some oversight over this plant, we wouldn’t have to be here.”

Jennifer Valiulis, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association said the group’s action is fueled by residents’ concerns.

“Many people reached out to us, to the EPA, and even to Limetree about the ways they were affected by the refinery’s recent operations and accidents. This study was initiated in response to their concerns,” she said. “The scientific insight gained by collecting comprehensive, unbiased data on the distribution and the nature of the refinery’s impacts, will guide the way forward in ensuring accountability.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency 60-day shutdown order after the refinery repeatedly sprayed oil and chemicals over neighborhoods, which is set to expire July 14, and residents have filed several lawsuits as a result of the pollution.

EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Director Mary Mears told The Daily News in a recent statement that “everyone deserves the assurance that the EPA will vigorously address violations of laws that keep people safe from environmental hazard and harm. That is exactly what EPA is doing here. EPA is undertaking a series of inquiries and inspections to inform its next steps.”

She also clarified that “while we have no direct role associated with the outreach to the communities from the oil droplet incidents, as our investigation of Limetree continues, EPA is assisting the V.I. government by sharing information.”

Limetree Bay has been going door-to-door and speaking with residents about cleanup needs, and “EPA is also aware that Limetree is interacting with some community members,” Mears said.

“Those interactions are between private parties and again EPA doesn’t have a role in advising the public,” she said, adding that callers to EPA that inquire about the water in their cisterns are being advised to contact the V.I. Department of Health’s Environmental Health Division.

Bond assured that all individual information submitted to the survey will remain confidential and will not be shared, “but the aggregate trends will be summarized at a neighborhood level and made available to the public, elected leaders, and federal agencies.”

The findings “will also orient further environmental research towards areas where residents have experienced heavy impacts, including analyzing soil and water samples for petrochemical contamination,” he said. “These findings will also provide insight into where monitoring stations should be located.”

To take the survey online, visit bennington.edu/Limetree.

— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.