Wilma Subra

Eight Years After a Mercaptan Spill, Residents of Eight Mile, Alabama, Call For Evacuation

Read time: 11 mins

Eight years after a mercaptan spill at a Mobile Gas facility in Eight Mile, Alabama, residents still affected by the spill are fighting back. “For years we have been told there is not a problem anymore, though the smell of gas never really goes away,” Eight Mile resident Geraldine Harper told DeSmog, “and I’m sure breathing that stuff is making my health worse.”

Harper was one of more than 200 people who attended a public meeting hosted by the We Matter Eight Mile Community Association at the Highpoint Baptist Church in Eight Mile on July 21, 2016. Environmental scientist and community advocate Wilma Subra confirmed what many feared—their air is getting worse, not better.

Mercaptan (tert-butyl mercaptan) is an odorant that is added to natural gas (methane) to give it the telltale smell now associated with the otherwise odorless and colorless gas. Just a tiny amount of mercaptan is perceptible by the human nose. Mobile Gas is owned by Sempra Energy, which is also the parent corporation that owns Southern California Gas Co. (the company responsible for the massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, California), and is required to add mercaptan to its gas supply, as are all the other gas companies across the country. 

High Levels of Chemicals Found in People Living Near Gas Wells: New Report

Read time: 5 mins

Chemicals from gas wells were discovered in biological samples drawn from residents of Pavillion, Wyoming, at levels as much as ten times the national averages, according to a new report. The study is the first to sample both the air near drilling sites and the levels of chemicals in people living and working near those wells, allowing researchers to study the ways that toxic air pollutants are entering people's bodies near gas wells and putting their health at risk.

The researchers found evidence of 16 potentially dangerous chemicals in 11 individuals who volunteered to participate in the study by wearing air monitors and providing blood and urine samples. They found benzene, toluene, 2-heptanone, 4 heptanone and evidence of roughly a dozen other substances — including some known to be quite dangerous and others for which little safety information is available.

Louisiana Environmental Group Warns Santa Barbara Oil Spill Cleanup Workers to Protect Their Health

Read time: 9 mins

An open letter from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) and the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper advises those affected by the Santa Barbara Plains All American Pipeline spill not to participate in the clean-up effort.

“We do not want to see your citizens', workers', and volunteers' health harmed in the way we have seen it damaged along our Gulf Coast after the 2010 BP oil disaster,” the letter says. 

But the warning may be too late to help some like Osiris Castañeda, a father, ocean lover and filmmaking professor who cleaned up a stretch of Santa Barbara County beach with other volunteers on May 20, the day after a Plains Pipeline spilled an estimated 101,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean.

Ghost Town Left in the Wake of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana

Read time: 6 mins

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, can be added to the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

“I wanted to stay in Bayou Corne for the rest of my life. I wanted to die here,” Mike Schaff, who recently moved out, told DeSmogBlog. “Texas Brine took that away from me. It’s like a ghost town now.”

The area was known as a picturesque sportsman's paradise for its waterways teeming with fish and alligators, but is now famous for a giant sinkhole that opened up on August 3, 2012 after a salt dome cavern owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC, collapsed.


Swamp maple blossoms near the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

A Forgotten Community in New Orleans: Life on a Superfund Site

Read time: 1 min
Shannon Rainey

Shannon Rainey lives in a house that was built on top of a Superfund site in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

I bought my house when I was 25, and thirty years later, I still can't get out,” she told DeSmogBlog.

Rainey’s home in Gordon Plaza is part of a subdivision developed by the city in 1981 on top of the Agriculture Street landfill. No one disclosed to the buyers that their new homes were built on top of a dump that was closed in 1965.

Rainey has a view of two other city-owned properties also built on the landfill: the shuttered Morton Elementary School and Press Park, an abandoned housing project developed by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO).

 “If it were white folks back here, this would be all gone,” Rainey says bluntly.

Bayou Corne Residents Still Evacuated Nearly Two Years After Salt Mine Collapse Caused Sinkhole

Read time: 6 mins
A sign on a Bayou Corne resident's lawn near the sinkhole

It’s been almost two years since a salt mine collapsed in Bayou Corne, 77 miles from New Orleans, causing a sinkhole to open up and natural gas to spread under nearby homes.

Since Aug. 3, 2013, a swath of Assumption Parish has remained under a state of mandatory evacuation.  

The area, known as a sportsman's paradise for its waterways rich in fish and alligators, has become a danger zone threatened by rising gas pressure. Only a few of its 350 residents remain after the collapse of the salt mine owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC.

“The situation in Bayou Corne remains dangerous,” John Boudreaux, the director of emergency preparedness for Assumption Parish, told DeSmogBlog.

It is his job to keep those who still live there safe.

“125 feet below us — where the aquifer is — there is a layer of gas that has to be removed. Until they can get it removed, the risk continues,” he said.

Nordheim: A Texas Town Facing A Toxic Future

Read time: 5 mins

Nordheim, Texas, population 307, may soon have a 200-plus acre waste disposal plant as its neighbor despite the protests of the city’s mayor, Kathy Payne.

The small town (one bank, one school, one cafe and a couple of shops) is located in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, where vast oil deposits have only recently become accessible through hydraulic fracturing — a process that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture the rocks and release the oil inside.


Nordheim Mayor Kathy Payne in City Hall. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Payne learned about the waste disposal plant in the local paper. Because the facility is planned for outside city limits, industry doesn’t have to share its plans with her.

Since reading about the proposal she has done all she can to learn what it will mean for her city with the assistance of Louisiana-based environmental scientist Wilma Subra, who investigates industry hot spots to help citizens make informed decisions about developments coming their way.

The waste disposal site proposed by San Antonio-based Pyote Reclamation Service will be a quarter of a mile outside of Nordheim if it’s granted a permit by the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory agency for all things gas and oil in Texas. The facility would have eight pits up to 25 feet deep and span an area almost as big as the town itself. Pyote also has plans to install another facility 3.5 miles away. 

Subscribe to Wilma Subra