Caribbean refinery emits flammable toxic gas

‘Noxious’ smell from St Croix’s Limetree Bay refinery closes schools and prompts health advisory.

The Limetree Bay petroleum refinery in St Croix, US Virgin Islands emitted excess levels of hydrogen sulfide [File: Alvin Baez/Reuters]

A “noxious” gaseous smell coming from St Croix’s recently reopened refinery that caused schools to close was caused by excess emissions of hydrogen sulfide, US Virgin Islands officials said on Friday.

The Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) is advising people with respiratory ailments such as allergies, lung disease and asthma to consider taking protective actions such as staying indoors or relocating to less-affected areas.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration describes hydrogen sulfide “as a colorless gas known for its pungent ‘rotten egg’ odor at low concentrations. It is extremely flammable and highly toxic.”

The odour was caused by an “operating upset” overnight and into the early morning hours which has been corrected, according to a Limetree Bay spokesperson.

“The executive management of Limetree Bay sincerely apologises for the impact to the public,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company would continue to monitor effects on the outside community.

The DPNR told Reuters it is investigating to what extent Limetree exceeded permitted hydrogen sulfide levels.

Local grammar schools and a career and technical education centre closed in-person learning after students and staff reported feeling nauseous due to a “noxious odor” affecting air quality on the campuses on April 22, according to a notice from the US Virgin Islands Department of Education.

A St Croix community coronavirus vaccination centre was also closed on Friday due to the odour, a representative told Reuters.

The smell has been observed west of the island in Frederiksted for several days and has prompted citizen complaints, according to the DPNR.

The refinery recently resumed producing fuel following an entire plant shutdown earlier this month due to an undisclosed operational issue.

Source: Reuters