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EPA: Cisterns Clean Following Hovensa Chemical Release

Household cistern-water samples from homes in the path of an airborne Hovensa chemical release under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supervision tested clean of contamination, according to the EPA.

For roughly eight minutes on the morning of Dec. 9, 2010, Hovensa released into the air above St. Croix a mixture of hydrocarbons and other chemicals in partially refined crude oil. Droplets of oil and chemicals wafted over the rooftops and cars of nearby neighborhoods in what was the third such release for the year.

Residents were advised to disconnect downspouts and the refinery set up water distribution sites while cistern water was tested for harmful contaminants.

Hovensa collected samples from 45 cisterns in the areas of Clifton Hill and Fredensborg to determine if the air release from the facility had impacted them, according to a statement from the EPA. The cisterns were tested for chemicals that were released into the air from the facility on Dec. 9, including total petroleum hydrocarbons and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons.

The Hovensa sampling was monitored by the EPA in partnership with the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources to ensure that proper sample collection procedures were used, according to the EPA. The Hovensa samples were analyzed by a Louisiana State University laboratory that analyzes samples for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The EPA performed its own analysis of 24 of the samples collected by Hovensa to confirm the accuracy of the LSU sample results. The EPA analysis was conducted at its laboratory in New Jersey. Results from all analyses confirm that the material released during the incident was not detected in any of the sampled cisterns.

When asked Friday afternoon about concerns some residents have raised over the fact that Hovensa took the samples and has an interest in how the tests turn out, EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez said its officials were present and observed Hovensa taking all samples.

"We did that because we want to ensure the scientific integrity of the process as well as the accuracy of the results," Rodriguez said. "Also we split the samples 50-50, so what that ensures is the analysis has redundancy. In this case, we were able to use our own labs and confirm the validity of the results we had."

The EPA has determined that the cisterns do not pose a risk to people’s health. The agency shared its findings with the V.I. Department of Health and with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, according to the EPA.

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