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EPA Issues Final Report of Air Toxics Study in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands--Public Meeting to be held on August 23

Release Date: 08/18/2011
Contact Information: Contact: Jennifer May 212-637-3658, may.jennifer@epa.gov

(St. Croix, USVI – August 18, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued a report on a four-month study of air pollution from the HOVENSA oil refinery and other sources of air pollution near the facility in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The purpose of the study was to determine whether air quality near the facility poses health concerns to the community and to guide the strategies for reducing local air pollution.

The Virgin Islands Department of Natural Resources, on behalf of EPA, installed air monitoring equipment at three locations where the biggest impacts of air pollution from HOVENSA and other facilities would be expected. These sites included Central High School RFD#2 in Kingshill (which had been evacuated during recent air pollution events); Bethlehem Village; and the Federal Aviation Administration’s facilities at Mannings Bay in Western St. Croix. EPA found that concentrations of specific air toxics measured at the three locations were below the levels of concern associated with health problems from either short- or long-term exposure to pollutants.

EPA together with representatives of the Virgin Islands Department of Natural Recourses will present the study’s findings in greater detail to the St. Croix community and answer any questions the public may have on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 from 2:00 – 4:00 P.M. at Estate Profit Headstart Community Center and from 6:00 – 8:00 P.M. at the Central High School Gymnasium. Questions for either meeting can be addressed to Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator, EPA, Region 2 at loney.natalie@epa.gov or by calling toll-free 1-800-346-5009 or at (212) 637-3639.

“Improving air quality for the people of St. Croix is a priority for EPA,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The communities near these industrial facilities face health and environmental challenges from air pollution. That’s why we conducted this study and why we have stepped up our monitoring, permitting and enforcement to protect people’s health. Together with the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, we will use the information gathered in the study to help determine future actions.”

The air monitoring began in February 2011 and concluded in June 2011. The air study was designed to establish the exposure of the population over a long-term period of time consistent with what EPA already knows about health impacts. The study was not designed to investigate episodic air pollution due to industrial accidents such as an oil spill nor was it designed to evaluate odor complaints.

The study measured 60 different compounds - primarily measuring levels of air pollutants known as volatile organic compounds. EPA focused on volatile organic compounds because these are associated with pollution from refineries. Many volatile organic compounds are known or suspected to cause cancer. The extent and nature of the health impact depends on many factors, including the level and length of exposure.

Two of the key pollutant volatile organic compounds analyzed, benzene and 1,3-butadiene, both measured below levels of health concern. For the Bethlehem Village and the Central High School monitoring sites air sampling data collected over the sampling period does indicate influences from nearby sources of benzene and 1,3-butadiene. Similarly, the Federal Aviation Administration monitoring site does indicate influences from nearby sources of 1,3-butadiene but do not indicate influences from benzene. The levels measured indicate that nearby communities are not exposed to long-term high levels of cancer and non-cancer risk from these pollutants. These pollutants are subject to the focus of EPA regulations and reduction measures nationwide.

Levels of the chemical carbon disulfide, which is associated with strong odors, were highest at the Bethlehem Village monitoring site. Given its proximity to the Bethlehem Village monitor, a nearby rum distillery may have contributed to these reported odors. While the levels measured indicate the presence of odors, the levels are not believed to represent a significant risk to public health.

Although EPA’s long-term air study did not focus on evaluating odor, the samples at the all monitoring sites taken around the time of an accidental air release from industries on St. Croix on May 9-10, 2011 did show elevated levels of air pollutants, including odors. This confirmed that there was a spike in air pollution consistent with the reported accidental air release during that period.

EPA remains in close consultation with the Virgin Islands Department of Natural Resources, federal and territorial health and environmental agencies to address air pollution concerns. In addition, EPA’s enforcement activities including its investigation of recent mishaps at the HOVENSA facility remain active and ongoing. There is also monitoring of particulate matter on the island by the Virgin Islands Department of Natural Resources and sulfur dioxide from HOVENSA is monitored by the refinery.

For more information about the study and the public meeting, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/waste/hovensa/index.html.

Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eparegion2 and visit our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/eparegion2.


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