Environmental Activists Threaten Louisiana Water Purification

Published September 24, 2014

Environmental activists are targeting Multi-Chem, a company that blends chemicals for oil production, as the company seeks a water discharge permit for its Vermilion Parish, Louisiana facility.

Nearly Identical Discharge Water

Multi-Chem uses reverse osmosis to purify water. The water it wants to discharge into a roadside ditch along Louisiana Highway 92 is similar to the city water it purifies, only with slightly higher concentrations of minerals.

Environmental activists claim the water discharge, though similar to city water, will damage the environment. The activists appear to be targeting Multi-Chem because of a 2011 explosion at its nearby New Iberia plant.

No Charge After Explosion

After the 2011 explosion, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality decided not to levy environmental fines against the company. No workers were injured during the explosion.

“The agency has not issued a punitive penalty at this point,” Greg Langley, DEQ press secretary, told Environment and Climate News.

“The [water discharge] permit is under consideration, and the agency is collecting information to aid its decision,” Langley added.

A public hearing was held on August 14 regarding the water discharge permit.

Though Louisiana did not punish Multi-Chem, it did not escape unscathed. The company was billed $29,522 for DEQ emergency responders. In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Multi-Chem $49,000, eventually settling for $24,500.

Multi-Chem’s Rebuilding Efforts

In response to the explosion, Multi-Chem has spent an estimated $22 million on remediation, Langley reports.

“The company was cooperative and submitted the Site Investigation Work Plan approved by DEQ in September 2011 . . . Subsequently, soil was excavated and removed to appropriate disposal sites. Monitoring and remediation work continued at the site after the acquisition of the company by Halliburton, which agreed to assume the remediation costs,” Langley said.

After the explosion, Halliburton, a worldwide energy production company, acquired Multi-Chem and built new facilities in 2013 in Vermilion Parish. The company received $1.8 million in property tax exemptions over a 10-year period.

Activist Group Files Suit

Citizens Against Multi-Chem (CAMC), headed by Marcella Manuel, is an outspoken critic of the plant and the DEQ’s response to the explosion. The group protested construction of the new plant in 2012 at the Vermilion Parish Police Jury meeting. Despite CAMC’s objections, Multi-Chem reopened its doors in September 2013 on a 64-acre site.

In response, CAMC filed a lawsuit claiming the DEQ issued an air permit without a public hearing or notice. The DEQ argued minor air emissions do not require public notice before issuing a permit. The lawsuit was dismissed by a district court, but CAMC announced it will appeal to the state supreme court.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.