Dec. 10, 2002 –– Off-island testing of water samples taken from residential cisterns near the Hovensa refinery found them free of benzene and petroleum hydrocarbon contamination and safe for drinking, according to a release issued Tuesday by the company.
Hovensa spokesman Alex Moorhead had said on Friday that tests conducted in the company's own laboratory were negative for benzene and other petroleum hydrocarbon contamination. But, as a precautionary measure, the company advised residents of Estate Profit to use bottled water for cooking and drinking until the results of the independent laboratory were received.
Moorhead, Hovensa's vice president for government affairs and community relations, had said he hoped to have the independent lab results over the weekend. However, he said in the release, they did not arrive until Monday night — because the water samples sent up to the mainland did not clear U.S. Customs there in time to reach the laboratory over the weekend.
Last Thursday, the hydrocarbon substance naphtha was accidentally released into the air from an oil-processing unit at the refinery. Estate Profit is downwind of that unit. Naphtha, according to an earlier statement from Hovensa, "is a blend of hydrocarbons that is a skin irritant and that contains some benzene." The chemical compound is commonly used as a solvent in dry cleaning. Tuesday's release said naphtha contains less than 3 percent benzene.
Moorhead said it is safe for Estate Profit residents to resume using their cistern water. "Operating procedures are being reviewed and will be revised as deemed appropriate to preclude any reoccurrence of the condition that caused the release of naphtha," he said.
He said naphtha is extracted from crude oil during distillation and is used to produce gasoline. The substance evaporates readily if it is not kept in a closed system, he said, and it escaped into the air "through a pressure-relief valve" at the refinery unit on Thursday..
"We are pleased that the initial assessment of 'no impact' made by Hovensa Environmental Department personnel during an on-site inspection conducted in Estate Profit shortly after the incident occurred has been confirmed by the laboratory analyses," he said.
Hollis Griffin, head of the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Environmental Enforcement Division, said on Thursday that the discharge occurred around noon due to the malfunction of machinery used in the processing of crude oil. There has been no further information on the matter from DPNR.

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