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Shell says its working to eliminate odor from Beaver Co. cracker plant

Shell says its working to eliminate odor from Beaver Co. cracker plant
Shell says its working to eliminate odor from Beaver Co. cracker plant 02:24

BEAVER, Pa. (KDKA) — A unpleasant smell in the air in Beaver County has been the talk of the town.

"For a beautiful spring day, you expect to smell your flowers, and the grass and it's just obviously not normal," said Joline Atkins, a Beaver resident.

Atkins didn't understand until she got a whiff of it.

"Later in the evening walking home from the library, it was putrid. It smelled absolutely awful," Atkins said.

People reported the stench the last two nights. KDKA-TV learned crews at the Shell cracker plant in Potter Township are working to eliminate an odor at the plant.

A statement from Shell Polymers Monaca reads, "There has been an odor detected originating from our waste-water treatment plant.  Depending on wind direction, the odor was detected in certain areas offsite as well. We are working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. We have notified the appropriate regulatory agencies and apologize for any inconvenience this issue may cause."

Dr. Clifford Lau with Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community and Eyes on Shell went to River Avenue in Beaver to take air measurements. He's concerned about what volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are being emitted.

"I have a device that I can measure VOCs and parts per billion. And I was getting the highest readings that I've ever seen up in the high 100s and some of them in 200s," said Dr. Clifford Lau.

We're told people have experienced watery eyes, irritated throats, nausea and headaches.

"This morning, I woke up with a slamming headache. I can smell and my windows are closed. We checked again and it's even higher than yesterday the alerts on the phone," Atkins said.

The Shell plant recently received three pollution violation notices from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. One of the notices is for visible emissions from the plant's high-pressure flares on Feb. 13.

The other two notices are for violating "rolling emissions 12-month standards" of nitrogen oxides through January and nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide through February.

Since the plant became operational in November, it has received six violation notices from the DEP.

"All the citizens in Beaver are sort of in the dark as far as what exactly is going on. Should they shelter in place, or should they evacuate?" said Lau.

"Should we be concerned? There's no official word and we're taxpayers and all we have to go off is what we're seeing, smelling and feeling. And what we're seeing, smelling and feeling is not normal," Atkins said.

On Thursday afternoon, Shell sent KDKA-TV a statement, saying:

"While draining a process water tank in preparation for scheduled maintenance during shutdown, hydrocarbons entered the wastewater treatment plant, a system which is designed to treat material prior to discharge. This resulted in an odor.  Water was added to reduce the concentration of hydrocarbons with the goal of minimizing the odor.

"We notified the appropriate regulatory agencies and apologized to the community for any inconvenience this issue may have caused.  There was no site-wide evacuation. While we focused on eliminating the odor, we did not issue permits for some of the work scheduled for the day."

On Thursday evening, the DEP released a statement, saying:

"On April 12, 2023, DEP received a series of reports from members of the public and Shell about offsite odors emanating from the cracker plant's wastewater treatment plant. DEP personnel were onsite soon after they were notified yesterday and remained onsite today, to investigate the situation.

"DEP personnel documented on-and-offsite odors, which Shell reports were caused by oil entering its wastewater treatment plant – this is related to what Shell describes as a "controlled shutdown of portions of the site" for maintenance and repairs. DEP is aware of higher than normal fine particle pollution but it has not exceeded the federally-established health-based ambient air standard for particle pollution at this time. DEP has no evidence to date of any unpermitted materials being discharged to a waterway.

"DEP has found no evidence to date of a significant benzene release or spill. Shell reported higher than normal readings for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) at its fence line air monitors to the DEP and reported that readings have since returned to normal. Beaver County EMA reported to the DEP that its offsite portable air monitors did not detect VOCs. DEP is in the process of independently verifying these results.

"DEP considers this an open investigation and will remain involved until the investigation is complete."

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