Plaquemine residents express fears over Dow benzene pipeline

STORY & PHOTO: MARK H. HUNTER, THE ADVOCATE, MAY 7, 2006
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Hazel Sparrow, left, a resident of Point Pleasant, listens to General Manager Scott Presley of Pipeline Technology explain on Saturday his company’s plans to construct a 23-mile benzene pipeline that will pass near the Ella Road and Point Pleasant communities. Presley holds a section of the pipe to illustrate its construction details.
PLAQUEMINE, LOUISIANA — The Iberville Parish president and a pipeline company executive on Saturday assured a group of rural residents that a proposed benzene pipeline would not endanger their health and safety.
Residents of the Ella Road and Point Pleasant communities invited Parish President Mitch Ourso Jr. and general manager Scott Presley of Pipeline Technology to meet with them at the residence of Vera and Charles Brooks just off La. 1 about 3 miles southeast of Plaquemine.
The pipeline, 8 inches in diameter, is proposed to run from the Dow Chemical Co. plant near Plaquemine across 23 miles of Iberville Parish, through the small community of Point Pleasant, under the Mississippi River to the TOTAL Petrochemicals USA Inc. plant near Carville, said Presley, general manager of Pipeline Technology, the line’s owner and operator.
The Baton Rouge company is negotiating rights of way and still requires some state and federal permits before the $17 million project goes under construction in 2007, Presley said.
Some of the nine residents who attended the meeting told Ourso and Presley they are worried because benzene is a hazardous chemical.
Benzene is used to produce styrene, Presley told the residents gathered in the Brooks’ living room, and is used in a range of products from foam coffee cups to plastic bodies of television sets and computers.
“Benzene is a carcinogen and long exposure to it is shown to cause cancer,” Presley said. “The greatest public exposure to benzene is gasoline. Some of the (odor) you smell is the benzene in the gas.”
Presley stressed the public will be protected by environmental precautions the company will take building the line.
Measures will include a high-pressure test before it goes online and computers that will constantly monitor pressure, temperature and flow rate. Six valves strategically placed along the line will shut it down in an emergency, he said.
Presley presented his plans to the Iberville Parish Council six weeks ago. Parish President Ourso told residents the parish government is satisfied with the pipeline project.
“I don’t oppose this,” Ourso said. “Right now they are transporting 125 barge loads of benzene on the (Mississippi) river and there is a large margin for error involving accidents, fog, ship (collisions) and human error loading and unloading it. Pipelines are proven to be the safest mode of transportation and I don’t think we’ll have any problems with it.”
Ourso added that much of the pipeline will be in a “pipeline alley,” a right of way which already carries four pipelines and an overhead electric transmission line.
“I don’t see any adverse effects,” Ourso said. “I think it will improve air quality and safety on the river by removing 10 to 12 barges a month.”
Vera Brooks, whose house is about a mile from the proposed pipeline and 50 yards from the river’s levee, said after the meeting her concerns were addressed by the officials.
“I have more understanding with how the pipeline is going and what they want to do,” she said. “That’s all we wanted — a good understanding. There was a time when people would come in here and just shove this stuff down our throats.”
Charles Brooks, her husband, agreed. “I think it will be safer underground than on barges on the river. As long as they keep their promises and as long as it’s not on my doorstep, it’s fine.”
Hazel Sparrow, who lives in nearby Point Pleasant, said she fears the pipeline will come down her road to the river.
“I’m not convinced,” Sparrow said. “I’m concerned about my seven grandchildren. We have enough chemicals around here now. I don’t feel like it is safe.”
Janice Dickerson of Brusly said she viewed the meeting as “an excellent beginning. All these companies need to do is come directly to the people and let them know it is safe. People around here were very concerned.”
The meeting wound down around noon and Presley said he, too. felt that the residents’ concerns were addressed.
“I’m grateful they invited me here and I think we knocked down some rumors that have no basis in fact,” Presley said. “I think most of the people here will leave feeling better about it.”

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