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Red dust flying in Gonzales, residents not happy about lack of maintenance

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GONZALES - The sky was painted red Wednesday when red dust was kicked up by the strong wind. Homeowners in Pelican Crossing have been contacting 2 On Your Side about it since they're not happy with the company that's supposed to keep it under control.

This isn't the first time 2 On Your Side has reported on the red dust problem. The dust flies when there are dry conditions and the wind blows. It happened last week during bad weather and again this week. People living in Pelican Crossing in Gonzales say they're concerned about what's landing on their property and what they're breathing in.

It's everywhere - on people's patios, on their lawn furniture, sticks to cars, in the grass, and everywhere in between.

Shelita Bailey has been busy cleaning. The dust has settled at the bottom of her pool, and it's covered her outdoor space. Bailey has seen the dust before but says it's never been this bad.

"Anytime the wind conditions are right, it'll start to blow again," Bailey said.

The dust is coming from a large site next door to Pelican Crossing. Mounds of red dirt can be seen over a levee. A satellite image shows just how large it is. The area is made up of bauxite mud ponds, which are waste generated during the processing of aluminum at the now-closed LAlumina Burnside Refinery.

Recently, 2 On Your Side emailed Logistics and Plant Services Supervisor Aaron Templet. He said the red mud area has a sprinkler system that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The system is meant to keep the area wet to help mitigate dusting, according to the permit with the Department of Environmental Quality. Templet says dry conditions and the strong wind doesn't help the situation.

Tuesday, WBRZ was in Pelican Crossing and saw the dust flying. People say they can't remember the last time they saw the sprinklers working.

Jodie Crandall moved to the neighborhood about a year ago. Before they built, they asked about the red dirt they can see from their back patio.

"We were told, 'it's just an alumina plant,' but it was shut down, and it wasn't active and not to be concerned," she said.

During the recent dustings, Crandall says she's inhaled it and tasted it.

"It was getting in your eyes and your mouth and it was salty," she said.

Now she's hesitant to plant a vegetable garden.

"I don't know what it is and how it's going to affect us if we grow vegetables in it," she said.

After it rained last week, one resident noticed how the water pouring off her house turned a deep brown-red color. They're concerned about what they're breathing and whether it's harmful when it settles.

"Is it safe to continue to live here?" Crandall questioned. "We have to find out, what is this dust, what are we breathing?"

While homes are still being built in Pelican Crossing and surrounding areas, people already living there say more needs to be done to prevent the dust from blowing.

More questions were asked of the Plant Services Supervisor, but they went unanswered. Calls were not returned and emails were not answered.

DEQ was closed due to the weather Wednesday but confirmed they received quite a few calls about the dust last week and that it's investigating the complaints. Ascension Parish says it's looking into the permits to determine what can be done.


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