WESTLAKE, LA (KPLC-TV) – Louisiana State Police are now looking into the circumstances surrounding an airborne release of heavy fuel oil into a Westlake neighborhood; as many wonder why troopers were not notified about the incident, as required, until 72 hours later.
On early Friday morning, ConocoPhillips said their Lake Charles refinery suffered an equipment malfunction, which sent a mist of oil into a nearby neighborhood. The mist of oil was eventually deposited on outdoor furniture, vehicles and mailboxes.
Residents discovered droplets of oil on their vehicles Saturday morning
On Monday, ConocoPhillips took responsibility for the matter.
ConocoPhillips said short-term exposure to the droplets should not cause any health effects. However, the company noted there could be health effects from long-term exposure.
On Tuesday, the company handed out letters to affected residents informing them about the process to have their property cleaned.
And while some residents decided to take advantage of the offer, others were upset about the process. For instance, residents said the company offered to clean their cars, but only at a location in Lake Charles. Other residents believe it's too late to clean up the oil droplets completely, claiming they've already become embedded beneath the surface of their soiled outdoor furniture.
"We have to clean our cars at a certain place and that's all they're wanting us to do is clean our cars," said Mark Wilson, one of the affected residents. "They're telling us how to clean our furniture and everything. That's not going to get rid of the problem. It's still in the ground."
"It's very stressful. I wish it would all go away along with the rain," said Tabitha McNabb, a resident of Ellis Drive who has helped lead her neighbors with the response to the oil mist. "Just wash it away with the rain, but it won't. It's still there no matter how you clean it."
One aspect Louisiana State Police will be investigating is why ConocoPhillips waited until Monday evening to notify them of the release, something required any time there is a chemical-related spill or accident.
"This is an ongoing investigation and once we have a conclusion on the investigation, we'll have more details to release," said Louisiana State Police Troop D Public Information Officer Sgt. James Anderson.
In a statement on Monday, ConocoPhillips said it was not initially aware the release had affected nearby residents.
In a statement to 7 News on Thursday evening, ConocoPhillips said they "apologize for the inconvenience that this incident has caused and we appreciate the cooperation of our neighbors as we work to complete this work promptly and effectively."
ConocoPhillips has partnered with several local businesses to help with the cleanup efforts.
ConocoPhillips is urging affected residents who need soiled property cleaned to contact their claims line at 1-800-766-6362.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is testing the substance. Results are expected in two and a half weeks.