EPA, DHH hold public meeting to discuss air and water monitoringJul 21st, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: news
Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals held a public meeting at the Buras Auditorium July 13 to discuss their ongoing efforts to monitor air and water quality in Plaquemines Parish in response to the BP oil spill.
Overall, the report regarding air and water quality was positive, according to Troy Hill with the EPA.
“Typically, we’re getting the air quality we expect to find along the coast,” Hill said. “And from the water quality standpoint, we’re not seeing any parameters associated with the oil spill.”
Since April 28, about a week after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, EPA personnel have collected more than 550 air samples, Hill reported. EPA has positioned three stationary air monitoring systems in southern Plaquemines Parish. Two are in the Boothville-Venice area, and another is in Buras. Air quality is typically in the normal range, with periodic moderate levels.
With regard to water testing, Hill said EPA personnel have focused their attention on conducting surface water samples at set locations around Plaquemines Parish and in surrounding waterways. Since the spill started, the EPA has collected a total of 334 water samples.
Hill said his team has seen oil – mainly tar balls and sheen – in the water but that the oil has not impacted water tests so far.
It was a glowing report meant to assure residents of southern Plaquemines Parish that they are safe in their communities. Several members of the sparse crowd gathered for the event, though, weren’t quite satisfied with the report.
“We’ve had instances where there’s been a trust issue,” Rev. Tyronne Edwards told Hill. “How reliable is information that comes from EPA and BP?”
Edwards asked specifically if there are any independent agencies who are monitoring the air quality in the area.
“I’m not sure,” Hill said.
As for water testing, Edwards said he’s not so much concerned about what’s on the surface in plain sight. His main concern is for oil that’s been pushed below the surface by dispersants.
“Where is the information for the stuff down below the surface?” Edwards asked. “That’s the testing I’m concerned with.”
Nicolas Brescia, EPA’s onsite director for the Plaquemines Parish area, assured Edwards there is another team that conducts offshore subsurface water quality testing, near where dispersants are being applied. He said his team is focused on conducting surface tests of inland waters.
But despite a growing amount of oil coming ashore, Brescia said the inland waters his team is sampling from has remained predominantly clear.
“Usually, what we’ll find at some of our sampling locations is a rainbow sheen,” he said. “We haven’t seen thick crude oil coming into the area we’re sampling.”
And regarding possible oil beneath the surface of the water, Brescia said his team hasn’t performed any ongoing sub-surface tests in weeks. Their sediment tests were done near the beginning of the oil spill.
“We did that before the oil came in so that when it does come in we’ll have a point of reference,” he said.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who was on hand to hear the air and water quality update, didn’t discount EPA’s report, but he said he’d like to see more thorough testing.
“How deep it is into the soil? How deep is it into the bays?” Nungesser asked. “Those are all questions we need to dig into ourselves. We just need that comfort level.”
Nungesser said he has asked BP to fund an independent air and water quality monitoring team for the parish. If that request is denied, Nungesser said he would approach the parish council for funding.
“I just think in all the uncertainties, we need someone representing Plaquemines Parish residents’ concerns,” he said.
Buras restauranteur Byron Marinovich also voiced questions about monitoring of sea life with regard to the oil spill.
Dr. Takeisha Davis, regional medical director for the Department of Health and Hospitals office of public health in the New Orleans area, said her agency has been sampling fishing areas closely in order to detect any possible impact from the oil. So far, with regard to oyster beds, very minimal impact has occurred, she said.
“Of the 317 samples from our oyster areas, thus far we’ve seen traces in 23 of those samples,” Davis said. “DHH is working extremely hard to open those areas as soon as possible, but we also want to do that safely.”
Late last week, DHH and Wildlife and Fisheries announced that recreational fishing had been reopened across a wide swath of Louisiana’s inland waters after testing indicated no impact from oil. The agencies hope to make a determination with regard to commercial fishing soon.