Published April 18, 2016
SWINOMISH INDIAN RESERVATION — Following a lengthy investigation the Northwest Clean Air Agency issued a Notice of Violation to the Shell Puget Sound Refinery arising from an incident on February 20, 2015, in which a plume of chemicals was released to the environment and descended on the Swinomish Reservation and the Town of La Conner.
The Notice of Violation alleges that Shell took shortcuts in shutting down and decontaminating its flare system which resulted in a release of chemicals including hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide, mercaptans and benzene.
“The Tribe takes seriously its stewardship of the Reservation environment and the protection of the health of Reservation residents” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “The Tribe immediately reached out to Shell, environmental regulators, and the entire Reservation community in order to determine the impacts of this potential environmental disaster. Our primary concern was the health and well-being of the people who call the Swinomish Reservation home, Tribal and non-Tribal alike.”
The Tribe received 176 written statements and numerous oral reports, and aggregate data from this effort was shared with the Northwest Clean Air Agency as part of its investigation into the incident. “I am very pleased that the Agency has issued a Notice of Violation and acknowledged the significant impact on the local community” said Chairman Cladoosby.
“Numerous reservation residents were impacted and suffered immediate and severe symptoms after being exposed to the noxious plume.” Migraines, nausea, eye irritation, throat irritation/coughing and breathing problems were the most common symptoms reported. Medical personnel from the Swinomish Medical Clinic struggled to treat patients with little to no knowledge of what they had been exposed to.
“With two oil refineries in our backyard the Swinomish Tribe is extremely concerned that something like this could happen again” commented Chairman Cladoosby. “I commend the NWCAA for taking meaningful action and look forward to working collaboratively with the Agency on matters of mutual concern, particularly air quality and impacts to human health and the environment to help ensure that this kind of disaster does not occur again.”
The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is a federally recognized Indian Tribe with more than 900 members. Swinomish is a signatory to the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott and is the legal successor in interest to the Samish, Kikialus, Lower Skagit and Swinomish aboriginal bands. Its 10,000 acre reservation is located 65 miles North of Seattle, Washington on Fidalgo Island and includes approximately 3000 acres of tidelands.