Chlorine leak ‘shelter-in-place’ ended prematurely, Iberville Parish President Ourso says

Staff Report

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said last week that the state Department of Environmental Quality informed him that the Olin Chemicals notice to lift the “shelter in place” in an April 18 chlorine spill was issued prematurely.

Ourso said the DEQ and Louisiana State Police told him in the meeting that the “shelter in place” order should have remained in effect for 34.5 hours. 

The Olin Chemicals notice to lift the “shelter in place” in an April 18 chlorine spill was issued prematurely, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso informed residents of those findings last week.

The DEQ also informed him that the leak of chlorine in April at the facility near the Dow Chemical complex plant was worse than Olin reported.

Ourso received that information last week when DEQ Secretary Chuck Brown called on the parish president to meet with DEQ and LSP staff July 25 to discuss the chlorine release from the Olin facility.

He provided details of that meeting in a letter he addressed to residents of North Plaquemine and surrounding areas.

“At this meeting, I was informed that the levels of chlorine at the time Olin advised that the ‘shelter in place’ could not be lifted were not accurately reported to the parish and other emergency agencies on scene,” Ourso said in the letter. “In fact, the chlorine levels in the monitoring area were higher than the level reported by Olin. I will not tolerate reporting of inaccurate information by Olin during an emergency.”

Iberville Parish Government will continue to assist DEQ and State Police during the investigation of the leak, according to Ourso.

“It is my position that the false reporting of chlorine levels by Olin officials is a serious breach of public trust,” he said. “Iberville Parish residents have the right to accurate and truthful information to be reported during any chemical release.”

He said the health, safety and welfare of Iberville Parish residents “is the most important function of the Office of Parish President.”

“I am obligated to notify you of the inaccurate information provided by Olin during this chlorine leak,” Ourso said. “I expect DEQ and State Police to conduct a full investigation of Olin’s actions related to this dangerous chlorine leak and impose any penalty that may be appropriate.

“The parish must be provided with accurate and truthful information related to any chemical leak so that the proper safety precautions can be implemented for residents’ health and safety.”

Ourso told POST/SOUTH that the DEQ and the state are entrusted to take the necessary action.

“If these are indeed the accusations in the letter, there’s nothing I can do as parish president, but of course, I was disappointed when they gave me that,” he said. “The investigation is still ongoing, and it was my people’s right to know what happened.

“It is a responsibility I have to protect the public, the health and welfare,” Ourso said. “I can only do that with the correct information that is sent to me, and that information was flawed according to our meeting.”

The leak from Olin’s Blue Cube LLC operation near the Dow Chemical complex led to the hospitalization of 39 residents from Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes, according to state health officials.

The fire began just before 9 p.m. April 18 in a compressor that converts gas to liquid, according to Greg Langley, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

The concentration of chlorine released was less than 1 part per million, the Environmental Protection Agency said at the time.

The shelter-in-place lasted 3 ½ hours.

The leak occurred in a plant less than one-quarter of a mile from subdivisions in the north Plaquemine area.