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Governor orders DPNR to look into HOVENSA Water distribution

By DANIEL SHEA (Daily News Staff)
Published: December 13, 2010

HOVENSA is coming under greater scrutiny following Thursday’s release of hydrocarbons.

ST. CROIX – After the latest release of gases from the HOVENSA refinery, Gov. John deJongh Jr. has directed the commissioner of the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources to provide an operational assessment and recommendations on how the government can better monitor the emissions released into the air by the refinery.

Thursday’s release of hydrocarbons from HOVENSA was the fourth since mid-September. It caused sickness – vomiting, skin and eye irritation, dizziness – in nearly 200 students at St. Croix Central High School. The school closed early two days in a row as a result. At least 36 people went to Luis Hospital for treatment, the hospital said.

Since the release, a number of local politicians and community members have called for stricter monitoring of the air quality around and downwind from HOVENSA.

“I am very concerned by this string of emission incidents that we have witnessed since Sept. 17, and Thursday’s incident appeared to have been the most severe, causing several hundred people to seek medical attention,” deJongh said in a prepared statement.

The governor said he has directed DPNR Commissioner Robert Mathes to provide an assessment on steps that must be taken to “further enhance the government’s monitoring capabilities of the refinery” within 15 days. Mathes is also to talk with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about an operational assessment of the refinery.

In the past, government agencies have allowed HOVENSA to take the reins on any cleanup or remediation efforts after such releases. In fact, HOVENSA monitors its own emissions and provides the government with the only data available on how much gas and oil are released into the air.

That information is generally only released after an EPA-sanctioned threshold is broken.

Since Thursday’s incident, many have called for independent government monitoring of the refinery’s emissions, including V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, Sens. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Sawn-Michael Malone, and St. Croix Environmental Association Executive Director Paul Chakroff.

Over the weekend, HOVENSA personnel cleaned up the hydrocarbons released Thursday that were deposited on Central High School, according to V.I. Education Department spokeswoman Juel Anderson.

DeJongh said he is also considering contracting an “oil refinery expert” to conduct an assessment of HOVENSA operations and to make an independent review of the impact on the lives and well-being of those who work at the refinery. He said he will wait for the results of talks among DPNR, HOVENSA and the EPA to make that move.

DPNR is preparing notices of violation for the four incidents, which will impose monetary fines against the refinery and require corrective action.

While speaking sternly about the mishaps at HOVENSA, the governor also alluded to the refinery’s massive economic impact in the territory, calling it an “extremely critical part of our economy.”

HOVENSA makes up close to 20 percent of the territory’s gross domestic product, according to V.I. Bureau of Economic Research Director Lauritz Mills.The V.I. Health Department is advising residents of Estate Clifton Hill and Fredensborg not to consume water from their cisterns until further notice.


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