On October 31, 2011, Mike LeBleu, who served as the asphalt facilities manager of the Pelican Refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, from May 9, 2005, through October 15, 2009, pled guilty to negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act, by negligently causing the release of hydrogen sulfide into the air.
According to the joint factual statement filed with United States District Court, in August 2007, LeBleu facilitated the purchase of a load of asphalt that had extremely high levels of H2S. The H2S coming off the asphalt was allegedly so high that the barge carrying the load was previously denied entry into the Port of Houston. Because of the high H2S levels, LeBleu was able to negotiate a substantial discount. According to the factual statement, the Pelican Refinery would have to spend almost $25,000.00 in order to bring the H2S emissions down to safe levels for road construction, but even with that cost, the savings to the Pelican Refinery amounted to more than $140,000.00.
The asphalt arrived at the Pelican Refinery on August 19, 2007, and under LeBleu’s direction, employees on the asphalt barges were instructed to load the high-H2S asphalt into a specific tank that was not permitted for H2S emissions. The tank was vented directly to the atmosphere.
The asphalt was treated in an ongoing process that lasted approximately one month. During the treatment, regular samples of the H2S levels were taken; however, while LeBleu personally collected some of these samples, he also ordered his subordinates to collect such samples. These employees had to climb on top of the tank, open a hatch, and insert a sampling device into the hatch and were not provided with required breathing equipment.
The criminal investigation was conducted by the USEPA CID in Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Police, with assistance from the LDEQ. My good friend Richard Udell was also involved in the prosecution.
LeBleu faces a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000.00.
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