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Chemical Spill Cleanup at St. Croix Refinery Delayed Due to Contractor’s Work in Ohio, EPA Reports

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The removal of hazardous chemicals from the Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation facility on St. Croix has been postponed due to a contractor being diverted to clean up the site of a recent chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The contractor, who completed work in Ohio, needs additional time to transport equipment to the USVI, EPA Administrator for Region 2 Lisa Garcia said during an online meeting on Tuesday. The operation, which was originally scheduled for next month, has been pushed back to May.

Before the chemical removal, EPA officials have completed some preliminary work, such as getting air monitoring systems online and ensuring that Port Hamilton has made the necessary repairs to its ammonia system, Ms. Garcia said. The agency officials will also be doing outreach on the ground in St. Croix starting in mid-April, and regular community meetings will continue.

EPA inspectors, who were at the refinery following a fire in a pile of petroleum coke which smoldered for days, discovered that tons of anhydrous ammonia, hydrogen sulphide-containing amine solution, and other volatile chemicals were stored in badly rusted, leaking equipment. The agency ordered Port Hamilton to come up with a plan for the safe removal and disposal of the chemicals, which the company is responsible for even if the refinery is sold or Port Hamilton goes bankrupt under the existing consent order.

The total cost of the cleanup work is unknown, said EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. The EPA has been monitoring developments at the refinery since it issued an emergency shutdown order in 2021, following several occurrences of oil droplets being misted into the air from refinery malfunctions that coated homes, vehicles, water cisterns, and crops in home gardens.

Prior to that, the previous owner HOVENSA shut down operations in 2012 following a series of Clean Air Act violations that culminated in a $5.3 million penalty from the EPA the year before. The latest delay marks years of concerns about the safety of residents who live in communities near the facility, and Port Hamilton is suing the EPA for requiring the company to apply for new permits before resuming operations.

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