It took the wrath of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finally close down the Limetree Bay Refinery on St. Croix for at least 60 days. After weeks of noxious odors invading the island and making people ill, it was about time that the refinery was stopped dead in its tracks, albeit temporarily.
Officials were posturing that the air quality was fine. Safety guards were off during accidents that caused oil droplets floating in the air and over people’s homes, and noxious fumes that were so bad they literally made people stop in their tracks.
Schools were closed, people were sent home from jobs and still the refinery kept going. After the flare-up fire — still another outrageous accident which endangered and frightened Crucians — Limetree officials apologized.
Apologized? The oil mist that traveled through the air had reached Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge. Citizens were also advised that their cisterns were in danger and possibly contaminated. People felt ill and complained. And still the refinery was operating.
This shutdown delay would not have happened stateside.
To see officials at the refinery and in our government debating over air quality tests while noxious fumes were pulsating around St. Croix was infuriating. People and their health come first. For the EPA to shut down an entire refinery is rare and only done when there is an imminent danger to public health.
Virgin Islands officials, along with the EPA, need to descend upon that refinery with full force. The health and well-being of the entire Virgin Islands depends on full disclosure as to what has actually happened. Stringent safety guards need to be operating at all times. A strict future policy of “when in doubt shut it down” needs to be part of the future operations of Limetree Bay Refinery.
— Maria Ferreras is a longtime St. Thomas resident and community volunteer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.