CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) -U.S. Coast Guard officials conclude the black sooty stuff that was floating on the water off Calcasieu Point earlier this week is Petroleum Coke also known as Petcoke. USCG officials say uncalcinated it is used in the smelting industry. Explains MSTC Chris Palafox explains, "What you saw on the water is Petcoke dust that comes from loading and unloading ships and barges. There are three facilities in the Lake Charles area that handle Petcoke, ALCOA on the Industrial Canal, Rain CII and Bulk Terminal 1 (BT1) both on the Calcasieu River."
It was Tuesday morning when an alarmed sports fisherman noticed the substance for a second time in two days. He said, "Even this morning it was worse going out that way. It breaks my heart."
Coast Guard Lieutenant Michelle Ferguson says they sent investigators into the field to check out the material. "We were able to go out and verify that the material is petroleum coke which is a dust that comes from the unloading and unloading of ships and barges in the area. We have multiple facilities that actually handle the Petcoke product."
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality agrees with the Coast Guard that the material that was on the water appears to have been petroleum coke dust. At this point there's no indication any laws were broken. Explains Ferguson, "Petroleum coke is not a harmful or toxic product. That's from our Clean Water Act Section 311 for hazardous substances. So, petroleum coke is not a hazardous substance. However we do want to minimize of course petcoke dust being on our waterway just like we want to minimize everything else that's not natural to the waterway."
Ferguson says their unit's top priority is protection of natural resources is their top priority. And she says concerned citizens are welcome to call if they think they see pollution. "For the fishermen and boaters out there if you see the petcoke dust and are able recognize it, it is not a harmful substance. However, if you are not sure what you are actually witnessing in the waterway call the National Response Center and we will send out Coast Guard personnel to verify the substance and commence investigation."
At this point, no agency has determined with certainty which facility may have released the stuff. However Palafox says it's not hazardous. Said Palafox, "Petcoke and Petcoke dust is considered not hazardous according to... Regulations."
Local officials say the United States Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Lake Charles is dedicated to the protection of natural resources of Southwest Louisiana and that response personnel are always available to respond and can be reached by reporting potential or actual pollution to the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
U.S. Coast Guard officials investigated to identify the materials spotted by fishermen after we showed our video to officials in the local USCG office. They said they'd have a crew in the area investigate and take samples to see if they could identify what was in the water.