Dry conditions to blame for out of control red dust in Gonzales neighborhoods
GONZALES-Dry conditions have turned an industrial waste mud-pit into red dust, now covering cars and sidewalks in a Gonzales neighborhood.
Homeowners and residents of Pelican Crossing are dealing with the dust, which looks like something out of a horror movie.
"I looked outside and everything turned orange. I asked Mark 'Is a tornado coming?' It wasn't, it was the red dust blowing from Pelican Crossing," resident Tracy Goetzl said.
The red dust is bauxite, a mineral used in aluminum processing. Health effects are not widely known, but bauxite can contain radium, which is radioactive.
In Ascension Parish, it had been kept in a mud pond to prevent the dust from blowing. This summer's dry conditions have turned the pond into a desert.
"As long as that stuff is being produced, it stays moist, the dust isn't a problem. They haven't produced anything for a long time—that coupled with this long dry spell," Gregory Langley with the DEQ said.
DEQ has inspected the site numerous times to assess how a sprinkler system is supposed to keep the bauxite wet, and how the system is and isn't working. A report from August said the sprinklers are not functioning correctly.
"The sprinklers are running, but there is not enough pressure. Overall, the sprinklers are helping, they could just be doing better," documents said.
"The sprinklers are still not working properly, they do have some of them running, there is some water, they had problems with their pumps, they had problems with sprinklers, some were clogged, they have to do maintenance work to keep them running," Langley said.
The owner, La Lumina LLC, is not being fined because DEQ says they are complying. The efforts are not a comfort for those living nearby.
"My biggest concern is what are we breathing in, just because we can't see it, is it still out there?," Goetzl said.
The Environmental Protection Agency notes that the Ascension parish plant was one of only 'two' of its kind in the US when it shut down. The other was in Gramercy.