EPA to send staff to U.S. Virgin Islands following refinery incidents

(Reuters) -The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to send experts and staff to a recently reopened U.S. Caribbean refinery as soon as this week to conduct an investigation, the agency said in a Tuesday statement after some residents said an odor coming from the refinery caused them to feel ill.

The Limetree Bay refinery in St. Croix exceeded hydrogen sulfide levels late last week and Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Virgin Island’s Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).

The “noxious” odor caused grammar schools and a technical education center to close in-person learning after students and staff reported feeling nauseous last week.

Limetree Bay said on Saturday said that the odor was not from a gas leak but due to an “operating upset,” which sent an “unusually high amount of sulfur-containing gases” to the refinery’s flare where they burned as sulfur dioxide.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration describes hydrogen sulfide “as a colorless gas known for its pungent ‘rotten egg’ odor at low concentrations. It is extremely flammable and highly toxic.”

The EPA is conducting the investigation with the U.S. Virgin Islands DPNR and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health.

The EPA said is looking to determine “the level of the exceedances, the composition of the releases, the duration and cause of the incidents, the corrective actions taken or to be taken, the potential public health impacts, and how to best prevent future incidents.”

“The incidents have been distressing and, in some cases, caused members of this already overburdened community to become ill,” the EPA said in a statement.

The agency added that it will work with the U.S. Virgin Islands government to determine the best way to provide regular information to the community.

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