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December 21, 2013Toxic Fumes Engulf Mossville Community; Axiall explosion and fire worse than reported

Contact: Stephenie Hendricks, (415) 258-9151, shendricks@comingcleaninc.org

(Mossville, LA) Although Axiall corporate and local government officials announced the “all clear” for Friday’s fire at the  Axiall plant in Westlake, Louisiana, nearby residents say that the toxic smoke from the fire was overwhelming, threatening, and that contamination in the commmunity goes beyond short term smoke in the area. 

“There was minimal communication with the community; an alarm sounded about an hour after we heard the explosion, we had to call to learn we must 'shelter in place.' We know that at least 12 people were sent to the hospital. I now understand why Interstate 10 was closed, the toxic cloud was headed directly towards Mossville,” said Dorothy Felix from Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN). “At least three schools were locked down, and we were told to ‘shelter in place.’ While authorities only report on short term effects, these chemicals may also cause lasting harm to our community, and no one is measuring that. We may never know about health and well being of the workers there based on the limited way they communicate with neighboring communities.”

The Axiall corporation reported that “unknown amounts” of EDC Dichloroethane, Hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride were released.  

Dichloroethane  has been found in previously in the Mossville area in drinking water, and those exposed long term have higher rates of cancer. U.S. EPA reports liver damage from long term impacts from vinyl chloride, as well as respiratory and nervous system impacts from short term exposure,” explains Wilma Subra, PhD, a chemist who has been investigating chemical exposures in the area. 

Michele Roberts, Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance added, "Yesterday, December 20th, 2013, the Federal interagency working group overseeing the implementation of President Obama’s Executive Order 13650-Improving Chemical Safety and Security, issued a report that failed to include any strategy for strong policy that would create regulations, guidance, and standards that would prevent these types of ongoing chemical disasters. These are not ‘accidents,’ they are preventable, and corporations must be held accountable – especially along Louisiana’s notorious cancer alley, also known as Louisiana’s oil, gas, and chemical corridor, where people are sick and suffering.” 

“We have called upon the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor (OSHA), and the U.S. EPA, as well as Louisiana state agencies, to come forward and take responsibility to protect people from chemical disasters, and this explosion shows that people are still exposed and being hurt by lack of government oversight and corporate accountability,” said Richard Moore, Co-Coordinator of  Environmental Justice and Health Alliance, and former Chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “We demand that federal and state government come forward now to protect communities and workers from toxic chemical disasters.”

Previously, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) ruled in favor of admitting a human rights complaint filed by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR) on behalf of people living in Mossville, Louisiana, due to previous explosions and chemical contamination such as what happened Friday.

“The Executive Order on Chemical Security Interagency Working Group is holding listening sessions throughout the country and continuing these sessions in January 2014. This is our opportunity to make recommendations to the Administration and hold our government accountable to preventing these disasters. The world is watching what the U.S. government does to protect the people of Mossville and Louisiana, while Governor Jindal, Senator David Vitter and others turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the suffering of their constituents,” said Michele Roberts.

Available for Comment

Dorothy Felix; Mossville Environmental Action Now; (337) 882-8078, mossville4ej@yahoo.com. Dorothy can tell about how Senator Vitter’s own state of Louisiana has among the highest cancer rates in the nation from chemical exposures and unprotected communities.  

Joaquin Sanchez; Los Jardines Institute; (917) 575-3154, joaquin.sanchezjr@gmail.com.

Monique Harden, Esq.; Co-Director and Attorney, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights; (504) 799-3060, mharden@ehumanrights.org. Monique is an attorney with expertise on human rights and environmental legislation and judicial decisions in the U.S. and abroad. Her organization’s litigation on behalf of African American residents of Mossville, LA has led to a precedent by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, which decided for the first time to take jurisdiction over a case of environmental racism in the United States.

Michele Roberts; Co-Coordinator, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform; (202) 704-7593, mroberts@comingcleaninc.org. Michele can discuss the disproportionate impacts from toxic chemicals on communities of color.

Richard Moore; Los Jardines Institute; Co-Chair, Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform; (505) 301-0276, ljinewmexico@gmail.com. Richard can discuss the health impacts on workers and communities from chemicals exposure.

Wilma Subra, PhD; Chemist, President, Subra Company; (337) 367-2216, subracom@aol.com.

 

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