Last Modified: Thursday, October 10, 2013 3:55 PM
The state Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday signed a cooperative agreement with four local petrochemical companies to clean up more than 700 acres of Bayou d’Inde.
Citgo, Axiall, Occidental Chemical and Oxy USA have agreed to fund cleanup efforts in four areas of Bayou d’Inde that have been polluted from chemicals discharged from their plants.
“We could’ve funded this cleanup with public dollars, but we always prefer to do the cleanup with private dollars where they are available,” said Tom Harris, DEQ’s administrator of underground storage tank and remediation division. “We’re really looking forward to putting the bayou back into productive use for the community.”
Harris said two other companies, Firestone and Westlake Polymers, were also deemed by DEQ as being partly responsible for polluting Bayou d’Inde. Firestone officials, however, claimed they were not responsible.
Westlake Polymers signed a cooperative agreement to do an investigation in the area. But after the data were collected, company officials concluded they were not significantly responsible. DEQ and EPA officials disagreed with both companies’ claims, Harris said.
Officials from Firestone and Westlake Polymers chose not to participate in the bayou’s cleanup. Harris said the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act allows companies that work with the government to clean up areas damaged by hazardous waste to sue other responsible nonparticipating companies for what they believe would have been their percentage of the project.
The estimated yearlong project will address four areas of concern along Bayou d’Inde. A 2001 investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found dioxins in the bayou’s lower portions and polychlorinated biphenyls in its upper regions. EPA officials also discovered heavy metals such as mercury, zinc, lead and chromium in the bayou.
A report of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has linked high exposures to PCBs to certain cancers, as well as nerve and heart disease. The report also says that studies suggest “PCBs may be associated with diabetes, and may harm our endocrine system.”
The Area 1 cleanup will occur in Bayou d’Inde’s upper regions, from Little Bayou d’Inde to La. 108. Harris said an “articulated block mat” will be installed that will eliminate any contaminated exposure to fish, shellfish or any type of plant or animal life in the region to the sediments underneath.
“It’s reinforced with rebar and then concrete is pumped into it,” Harris added. “The concrete does not allow any exposure to these contaminated sediments in depth; it does not allow for scouring to mobilize the contaminants. The fish and shellfish are not able to uptake the contaminants of concern.”
Area 2 will focus on the bayou’s dredge channel between La. 108 and the Calcasieu River Ship Channel. Workers will dredge down to the native soil at the depth that it was originally dredged 40 years ago, Harris said.
The contaminated sediments removed from the area will be deposited into Lockport Marsh and capped in place with clean sediments.
Area 3 will address the fringe marshes along the backs of Bayou d’Inde between La. 108 and the PPG Canal.
“We’re going to place clean sediments in those fringe marsh areas similar to the remedy in Area 1,” Harris said. “This will eliminate exposure to fish, shellfish or people to the contaminated sediments below.”
Area 4 will have clean sediments placed on the surface of the Lockport Marsh below the PPG Canal, Harris said.
Michael Tritico, president of the Lake Charles-based group Restore Explicit Symmetry To Our Ravaged Earth said he disagrees with the idea of moving contaminated sediments from one area and capping them in another.
“The concept of picking up poisonous sediments from one spot and putting them in another spot that is still going to be flushed by the tidal pulses and the storms and winds, is a bad idea,” he said. “They’re not really removing the poison sediments from the ecosystem, they’re just moving them and leaving them in a position to be further eroded. It’s an inferior plan.”
Harris, however, said he has “a high degree of confidence” that the remedies DEQ has recommended will “fix the problem” in Bayou d’Inde. He added that within “a couple of short years” DEQ will be able to lift the bayou’s fish consumption advisory.
“Of course we will need to see the data. We’re going to have to see the data and see it for a couple of years running before we lift the advisory,” he said. “I’m encouraged.