Paulina residents air out concerns over chemical spill
ST. JAMES PARISH (WVUE) - More than a week after a train derailed near Emeline Washington’s house in Paulina and spilled 20,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid, she says she hasn’t been doing well.
“I’ve been coughing a lot, still coughing a lot. And there’s like a pressure, a pressure in (my head),” Washington said.
Since the chemical spill, she has gone to the emergency room and her primary doctor for care. Washington’s story was a common one heard at a meeting at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church Thursday evening. She was one of several people who say are experiencing health issues after the spill.
“If you want to put a ballpark figure, it’s many 10 or 12 people that are having some severe issues possibly from this spill,” Pastor Herman Clayton Jr. said.
Clayton said he originally called the meeting a day after the wreck in order to keep the community in the loop about the latest information about the spill. He also wanted neighbors to voice their concerns about the incident, like why weren’t people alerted about the derailment through the parish’s emergency alert line.
Clayton also says St. James Parish officials were invited to speak and listen at the meeting, but they did not spend due to a prior commitment to be at the Veteran’s Day celebration at Lutcher Recreation Park.
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In a statement, Public Information Officer Victoria Rocquin-Henry said, “Parish President Dufresne was at the Veterans Day Celebration as he had already made a commitment to the veterans. The event tonight was scheduled without checking Parish availability, and we had our annual Veterans Day Celebration tonight. We plan this event all year long and it takes our full team to make it a success, however, our Human Resources Director Ingrid Bergeron was able to attend on behalf of the Parish. She was also the one who coordinated rooms for displaced citizens. All officials had already made a commitment to honoring our veterans at tonight’s celebration prior to this meeting being scheduled.
Pastor Clayton says he invited parish officials to come and speak at the meeting, but a spokesperson for the parish said the meeting was scheduled without checking parish availability and they attended a Veteran’s Day festival because they say they already made a commitment to honoring veterans.”
Instead of the parish president and the sheriff, St. James Parish Human Resources Director Ingrid LeBlanc was sent in their place but was unable to ease all of the concerns.
“Ms. Ingrid couldn’t answer the questions, not all of them. Because some of them are totally out of her department,” Clayton said. “They should have been here for that, and I am really disappointed in them for not at least sending a high-level representative.”
When asked, LeBlanc said she did not have the latest information about the investigation about the train derailment and will relay all questions and concerns from the meeting to the proper parish officials. She also said she understands people’s frustrations but hope officials come out to the next meeting.
“St. James parish government is doing everything they can to provide assistance to them and advocate for them in this event,” she said.
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