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St. Croix Residents – Are You Worried About the Air You Breathe?

Ah, the Virgin Islands – a tropical paradise with sandy beaches, clear turquoise water, swaying palm trees – but stinky, polluted, dangerous air?

Already this year St. Croix residents have experienced several air pollution incidents involving smelly and possibly harmful chemicals. So, advocacy groups on St. Croix are calling for a permanent, ongoing, air monitoring system.

In May Central High School students were sent home from school due to odors and chemicals in the air. Students were experiencing symptoms commonly associated with exposure to sulfur dioxide (SO2) and/or hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
 
Unfortunately, the May pollution release was not an isolated incident. Releases have occurred before and since the May incident. In each case testing was done, but not during or immediately following the incidents, leaving reasons to wonder if the actual cause had dissipated or was still in the samples taken.

Although the federal Environmental Protection Association (EPA) is conducting a 3-month study of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) at the high school and two other locations, the sporadic study is too limited and fails to continuously monitor VOC’s stated Paul Chakroff, Director of the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA). Air samples from these locations are collected once every six days, Chakroff said. The air canisters are sent to a state side lab where they are analyzed for 60 specific VOC’s, including those known to originate from oil refineries. AARP VI joins SEA in advocating for the establishment of a permanent, continuous ambient air monitoring system that can provide real-time information on the dangerous compounds released into St. Croix‘s air.

Earlier this year, SEA submitted a proposal to use the funds established as a result of the Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) which became available as part of a Consent Decree between the EPA and Hovensa. The SEA plan addresses a comprehensive air quality/public health initiative that qualified under EPA’s guidelines.

Under SEA’s plan a public/private partnership would be created with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and a variety of private entities including neighborhood associations, consultants in epidemiology and other key disciplines.

SEA’s comprehensive proposal also advocates the re-establishment of a cancer registry; establishment of an asthma/upper respiratory ailment registry; a system of gathering information on geographic distribution of cancer and upper respiratory ailments which can correlate public health data with air pollution exposure data and models; and finally, a system to communicate information on environmental public health risks.

Chakroff contends that DPNR instead proposes to use the one-time payment of $4.8 million to create an Environmental Health Center in the USVI which would be modeled after the New York Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center. Chakroff’s apprehension with this plan focuses on how the Center will continue to operate once the Consent Decree funding is depleted.

AARP invites you to let your voice be heard. Your input is very important to staff. Contact us at viaarp@aarp.org and let us know what option you support.

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