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Air monitoring immediately after Hurricane Isaac showed levels of a toxic chemical high enough to require use of a respirator on a levee just outside the Stolthaven New Orleans LLC petroleum and chemical storage and transfer terminal in Braithwaite, LA.

Testing of floodwaters near the site also revealed chemicals, but not at levels the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found to be threatening to public health. However, the agency warned residents to avoid contact with floodwaters and sediment left behind.

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DEQ also said it issued a “notice of potential penalty” on Sept. 4 to Stolthaven New Orleans LLC for its failure to give the agency timely notice of potential chemical spills at the company’s facility.

The notice of penalty came four days after DEQ emergency response manager Peter Ricca said if there were any hazards from chemicals released by the company, they remained on Stolthaven’s property.

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DEQ spokesman Rodney Mallett said the possible penalty did not come out until Friday because DEQ officials “focused on cleaning up and recovery.

The DEQ action against the company came a day after Stolthaven officials announced they filed a “corrected” form with the Coast Guard National Response Center. The form said an earlier form had an error implying up to 191,000 gallons of chemicals in nine tanks at its facility might have released during the flood. In fact, the company said, it did not appear that any of the tanks holding those chemicals had leaked, though the company also stopped short of saying no material had escaped.

The release also failed to mention a separate report Stolthaven filed with DEQ this week that said up to 38,700 gallons of paraffinic oils might have been lost from two damaged tanks at the Plaquemines Parish facility, and that some of that material may have moved off site with floodwaters.

On Friday, a Stolthaven spokesman said that report was accurate.

“As far as numbers on what was released, we are still working closely with the authorities on inspections to gauge and measure our tanks,” said the spokesman, Darrell Wilson.

Aerial photographs of the site showed a large area around one of the tanks covered with colorful liquids. Workers dressed in protective clothing were cleaning up the material.

The DEQ news release about Stolthaven said tests on floodwaters outside the facility in the immediate aftermath of the storm found levels of some chemicals above drinking water standards.

“However, the floodwater is not considered a potable water source, so these exceedances are not indicative of a human health concern at this time,” the news release said. The chemical levels were determined to be acceptable for “activities such as incidental contact with water and wading.”

Still, the agency warned residents to avoid contact with floodwater because it contains a variety of contaminants, “including bacteria, which is naturally occurring.”

The agency is reviewing a plan to sample sediment in the area for contamination, and warned against coming in contact with that material.

The air quality is no longer a problem, according to DEQ, though the agency said post-Isaac sampling on a levee adjacent to the facility “showed varying levels of methyl acrylate that would at time require respiratory protection.

“There was also a release of octene and lube oil into the water on site that was contained with boom,” DEQ said.

“DEQ and others involved in the Stolthaven incident will ensure the company cleans up any contamination to the proper standards,” DEQ said. “Contractors hired by Stolthaven have already begun cleaning up orphaned drums that are located throughout the community. Air monitoring continues throughout the community. Water sampling and sediment sampling will also continue.”

The news release said the agency can’t assess penalties until 10 days after the company receives notification it will get a fine. Fines could reach $32,500 per day “for each potential violation until the contamination is removed,” the agency said.

The new form filed with the National Response Center included an explanation of errors the company said ended up in the form posted on its public website.

“Report 1024157 mistakenly reported a release of materials, when it was uncertain if any materials had actually released,” the new filing said.

The new form lists zeros next to spaces for “quantity released” and “quantity in water” for tanks holding benzene, diethylethanolamine, ethylene glycol, ethylbenzene, napthalene, lubricating oil, styrene, tetraethyl lead, toluene and xylene.

The form also says, “Flooding during Hurricane Isaac may have caused leaks in storage tanks at the facility. It is currently unknown whether any release has occurred.”

The revised report said the company’s inventory records showed the following quantities — which match the amounts listed as possibly released and in water in the original report — were in the tanks prior to the storm:

Benzene, 97.3 gallons; dietheylethanolamine, 177,568 gallons; ethylene glycol, 822 gallons; ethylbenzene, 291.9 gallons; napthalene, 97.3 gallons; lubricating oil, 9,474 gallons; styrene, 1,036 gallons; tetraethyl lead, 5.1 gallons; xylene, 973.1 gallons.

In its news release, the company said the original report listed the amounts that might release in a worst-case scenario “in an abundance of caution.”

“Some of the facility’s storage tanks shifted off of their foundations as a result of the storm surge,” the release said. “Due to certain tank shifting, it was not immediately possible to confirm the exact quantity of materials held in these tanks.”

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