The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Rivergator Appendix 8
Baton Rouge to Gulf of Mexico
Environmentally Impacted Communities
and Legacy Sites for Rivergator
by Paul Orr
246.5 LBD – Petro Processors Superfund Site
Petro-Processors of Louisiana, Inc. Brooklawn site is located on Brooklawn Drive one and one half miles west of Scenic Highway. From 1969 to 1978 Petro-Processors used the site as a depository for various petrochemical waste products. The Brooklawn site covers approximately 80 acres and includes the Disposal area and an area adjacent to Bayou Baton Rouge. Former disposal areas include lagoons in the batture area and pits in the bluff area.
An estimated 300,000 tons of waste were deposited during operations conducted by PPI. This approximate amount includes 125 K tons of solids, 64,000 tons of sludge and 125,000 tons of liquid waste, of which, 52,000 tons were non-chlorinated organic liquids, 63,000 tons were chlorinated organic liquids and 10,000 tons were aqueous liquids. In July 1980, the U.S. Justice Department filed suit against PPI and Industry Defendants, alleging that they disposed of wastes including hazardous substances at the Brooklawn Site and Scenic Site.
The current selected remedial actions at the Brooklawn OU are: Source Reduction in the disposal area; Protective Fill and Biota Monitoring in the Middle Channel of the Bayou Baton Rouge area distributaries; monitored Natural Attenuation of contaminated groundwater; and Administrative Controls.
245 LBD – Alsen
The Rollins hazardous-waste landfill and incinerator is located next to Alsen, a historic African-American community of 1,104 persons in 1980. After years of noxious odors, cattle dropping dead in their field, deer with tumors, and yards littered with dead birds (just to name a few incidents). Residents organized and fought Rollins, which was eventually shut down. Alsen, once an idyllic community where residents lived close to the land and water, is now overburdened with chemical plants and 3 superfund sites.
244.5 – Devil’s Swamp Lake Superfund Site
Devil’s Swamp is located on a point of land surrounded by, and regularly flooded by, the Mississippi River and is about ten miles north of the City of Baton Rouge. Devil’s Swamp is a wetland, flood plain and lake covering approximately 9 square miles of land along the Mississippi River. The swamp to the north of the lake is characterized by numerous small open ponds and water tupelo trees. Industrial facilities have discharged to the swamp since the 1960’s and the 1970’s.
Sampling conducted by the State and the EPA show concentrations of PCBs congeners as the contaminant of concern. Congeners are well-defined chemical compounds in the PCB category.
The site was proposed to the NPL list in the Federal Register on March 8, 2004. The EPA completed evaluation and negotiations with some Potential Responsible Parties (PRPs) and issued an Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) to PRPs to conduct a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) on December 3, 2009.
235 LBD – University Place
A predominantly African-American community adjacent to the campus of historic Southern University in Baton Rouge. It is also adjacent to the Baton Rouge North Wastewater Treatment Plant. As the treatment plant expanded odors and sewer flies plagued the community. A second round of buyouts will relocate the remaining residents in close proximity to the plant.
232 LBD – Exxon Mobile Buffer Zone
The Standard Oil Company built an oil refinery not far from downtown Baton Rouge in 1909. In the decades following the city grew up around the refinery and soon was surrounded by primarily white middle-class neighborhoods. The refinery boomed during WWII, literally fueling the US military, and solidified it’s position as one of the largest in the United States. The white residents moved away from the facility and African-American residents moved in. The refinery continued to expand and impacts to the surrounding community increased. After a number of catastrophic explosions and complaints from nearby residents the facility began an unprecedented buyout program which has resulted in a strip of now vacant land a number of city blocks deep around the facility. As of today, Exxon has cleared approximately 250 acres of open space along it’s Eastern fence line, creating a “protective buffer.”
231.8 RBD – Sunrise
The town of Sunrise was founded by a former slave in 1874. A large oil refinery was constructed adjacent to this community in 1972 and acquired by Placid Refining in 1974. By 1990, Placid had bought out 241 residents breaking apart the historic community.
210.2 RBD – Morrisonville
Founded on Manchac Point, a spit of swampy land surrounded by the Mississippi River, by slaves newly freed from plantations near Plaquemine, Louisiana. Following catastrophic flooding on the Mississippi River the residents moved in 1931, a few miles west and just inside the new Federal flood levees, onto land adjacent to the Mayflower Plantation. Dow Chemical Company bought the plantation land next to Morrisonville in 1958 and built a chemical plant to produce vinyl chloride and other chemicals. Dow’s facility encroached on Morrsionville more and more as the facility grew. It was said that the residents could hear announcements over Dow’s loudspeakers in their homes. In the 1980’s extensive vinyl chloride contamination of the groundwater was found under the Dow facility and Morrisonville. Dow bought out the residents, many of whom moved to two new subdivisions named in honor of the old town.
209 RBD – Myrtle Grove Trailer Park
The extensive vinyl chloride contamination under the Dow facility that spurred the Morrisonville buyout also traveled through the groundwater more than a mile south of the facility. In 1997 the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals found vinyl chloride in the drinking water well that supplied water to the Myrtle Grove trailer park. Due to “human error” neither the residents nor any other agencies were notified. After suffering from miscarriages and other health problems the residents finally were notified of the contamination in 2001. The trailer park operator gave each household $2000 for moving expenses and shut down the park. Dow has fought any responsibility for the contamination. The site has since been developed into a nice middle-class subdivision connected to the city of Plaquemine’s water system.
206 RBD – Reveilletown
An accident at the Georgia Gulf PVC plant filled the air of the surrounding area with toxic fumes. Plumes of vinyl chloride seeped into the residential community of Reveilletown, which was located less than 1,000 feet from the plant. Residents filed suit against Georgia Gulf after traces of vinyl chloride were found in local children’s blood. Georgia Gulf settled with the residents of Reveilletown, who either received a cash payment for their homes or were moved to a small suburban cul-de-sac several miles upriver.
185 LBD – Geismar
Once surrounded by agriculture fields, the predominantly African-American community of Geismar in Ascension Parish is now surrounded by over 20 industrial facilities including Borden Chemical. BASF, PCS Nitrogen, and Shell Chemical. When EPA’s TRI first came out in 1987 Ascension Parish had the highest toxic releases in the state. 157,704,217 pounds of those toxic releases were in the Geismar area.
182 LBD – Old Inger Oil Refinery Superfund Site
The Old Inger site was a former oil refinery and waste oil reclamation facility that began operation in 1967. The facility was purchased by Old Inger Oil Refinery in 1976 and operated until March 1978. When the site was active, waste oils were brought to the facility by truck and by barge. The waste oils were processed in the cracking tower and stored onsite. Final products were generally shipped from the site by truck. Lagoons at the site were used for disposal of waste sludges, oils, and surface water. Liquid would occasionally be siphoned from one of the lagoons to the swamp to maintain storage capacity in the lagoon. The siphoning process resulted in the discharge of oily materials into the swamp. Contamination at the site resulted from tanks being overfilled, discharges to the lagoons and swamps, and drums and construction debris being buried in lagoons. A large spill occurred in March 1978 that resulted in the discharge of used oil into the swamp. After the spill occurred in 1978, ownership of the property changed. The new owners intended to cleanup the site. However, the new property owners found the cleanup to be uneconomical and abandoned the site in 1980. The Louisiana Environmental Control Commission formally declared the site abandoned in 1981.
The site was found to be contaminated with a wide variety of organic and inorganic compounds in sludges, soil, sediments, ground water, and surface water. Surface water in the swamp and the lagoons were also determined to be impacted by site contamination. The site was placed on the NPL in September 1983. The contaminants of concern included heavy metals, phenols, benzene, naphthalene, benzo (a) pyrene, and benzo (a) anthracene.
160 RBD – Chatman Town & 159.5 RBD – Burton Lane
Two African-American communities in close proximity to each other that were once surrounded by sugar cane fields but are now surrounded by giant petroleum storage tanks and a petroleum train loading and unloading facility. There is only one way in and out of Burton Lane and there is concern amongst residents that an accident could trap them.
141.25 LBD – Garyville & 139.75 LBD – Lions
The Marathon refinery is located between Lions, a community founded by former slaves, and Garyville, a racially mixed community on the upstream side. Refinery operations and multiple accidents contributed to an unhealthy and noxious environment; residents from both towns were relocated to different places in the region. Marathon paid in full for Garyville residents, while Marathon contributed half of the relocation costs for Lions residents, as Lions flanked a large grain elevator on its opposite side. Residents of both towns were relocated wherever lots were available, resulting in the permanent fragmentation of these communities.
127.8 – Taft
Taft began as a sugarcane plantation and slowly grew to include a post office, store, and the Holy Rosary Catholic Church (established in 1877). In 1966, Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical Corporation) bought the Holy Rosary property and moved the church to Hahnville. The Holy Rosary cemetery and Green Hill cemetery (completely encapsulated by the plant) remain the sole relics of the community.
126.1 LBD – Diamond and Norco
These two communities are sandwiched between a Shell chemical plant on the east and a sprawling facility including another Shell Chemical plant and two oil refineries on the west. After a series of frightening explosions and accidents at the Shell Chemical facility, the residents began to organize. Multiple lawsuits awarded the residents compensation for damage caused by the explosions, yet they were unable to sell their homes. In 2002 the community finally was able to negotiate a buyout program with Shell, which agreed to relocate all residents who wanted to live elsewhere.
126 LBD – Bayou Trepagnier
Bayou Trepagnier runs from the petrochemical complex next to Norco through the LaBranch wetlands and into Bayou LaBranch just before it enters Lake Pontchartrain. The Shell oil refinery (now Motiva) dumped wastewater into the bayou for approximately 80 years from the 1930’s to 1995. The contamination is extensive enough that a 5,500 foot stretch of the bayou starting at the petrochemical complex had to be completely filled in with clay and soil in an attempt to stabilize and lock the contamination in place.
124.6 LBD – New Sarpy
Just on the other side of the sprawling facility from Norco, New Sarpy is located adjacent to the Valero oil refinery. After lightning ignited a poorly maintained gasoline tank that resulted in a 13 hour fire, residents of New Sarpy protested and demanded relocation. Rather than move the community the refinery launched a community improvement initiative which offered $25,000 home improvement loans forgivable over a 5 year period or smaller annual payments over the same period. This method of compensation resulted in a divided community, with some residents unsatisfied with the payoff and others decrying the protestors as standing between the money and their children’s Christmas presents.
121 LBD – Old Pan American Southern Oil Refinery
The Pan American Southern Refinery was built on Destrehan Plantation in the early 1900’s and produced tar, heating oil, gasoline, lubricating oil, asphalt, and other petroleum products until it was closed in 1958.
The neighborhood of Gert Town is located in Mid City New Orleans near Xavier University, the only historically Black, Catholic University in the United States. Just blocks from the university and within this residential neighborhood was the Thompson-Hayward chemical plant. From 1941 to the 1970’s the plant mixed a variety of liquid and powdered insecticides and herbicides in large outdoor vats, including Aldrin, Dieldrin, Chlordane, DDT, and the herbicide 2,4,5,-T (one of the 2 constituents of Agent Orange). In the 1980’s the site was used by Harcros Chemicals to store dry-cleaning chemicals and pesticides. Spills of chemicals and dumping of chemicals into storm drains were common. The facility was shut down in 1988 and some remediation was conducted. Large amounts of toxic material remained and an additional clean up was performed by the US EPA from 2006 – 2007.
Press Park, Gordon Plaza, and Liberty Terrace
The town home development Press Park, the neighborhood Gordon Plaza and the apartment complex Liberty Terrace were built in 1978 as part of a redevelopment project, championed by local politicians, aimed at helping to give low income African-American residents of New Orleans a piece of the American Dream. By 1986 residents began complaint of trash popping up through the soil in their yards and health problems. The developments had been built on the old Agriculture Street Landfill, a primary landfill for the City of New Orleans from 1909 to 1952 and was used again to dispose of waste from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and 1966. In 1994 the area was put on the Superfund list by the EPA and a cleanup was conducted; removing contaminated soil, installing fabric barriers and placing new soil but the residents remained in place. Hurricane Katrina devastated the area and the flooding is thought to have allowed contamination to seep to the surface. The town homes and apartment complex (which was being used as a retirement home) remain abandoned but most of the single family homes are currently occupied.
During the Vietnam Conflict many Vietnamese refugees were resettled to South Louisiana, the thought being that refugees from the Mekong Delta would feel most comfortable in the Mississippi Delta and have opportunities as fishermen and in the seafood industry. A large population of Vietnamese Americans developed in New Orleans East as well as on the West Bank. It is said to be the largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam. One of these communities is a neighborhood in New Orleans East called Versailles which is centered around Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church. The residents of Versailles live in typical 60’s and 70’s suburban style homes but many backyards and the nearby fields are filled with gardens growing all manner of vegetables, often being tended by folks in traditional conical hats. The water for the gardens, as well as fish, comes from the lagoons and bayous that flow around the neighborhood. Following Hurricane Katrina the residents found out that a landfill for hurricane debris was to be built adjacent to the neighborhood and on a bayou connected to their waterways. The residents, who traditionally kept a low profile and avoided conflict with those outside of their community, organized and began to fight the landfill. Public hearings were flooded by residents, often requiring overflow rooms to hold everyone. The landfill was ultimately shut down before it had accepted very much waste some of which was removed but some still remains. The community is now working to increase it’s sustainability and developing community based farms and aquaponics.
89.6 LBD – Former Kaiser Aluminum Site
In 1951 Kaser Aluminum built an aluminum smelting plant in Chalmette, La. taking advantage of inexpensive natural gas, government incentives and a high demand for aluminum from the U.S. government stockpile. Alumina (aluminum oxide), made from bauxite at the Kaiser plant in Gramercy, La., was electrolytically reduced to aluminum in 1,296 reduction cells with cryolite (NaAlF6) and caustic wash. The plant was producing 260,000 tons of aluminum per year at its peak production.
At least two areas at the site have have legacy contamination issues. On the east side of the facility was a power plant consisting of two long buildings which housed electrical generating equipment. In 1992 tetrachloroethylene, toluene, cis-1,2-dichloroethene, and vinyl chloride contamination was found in the groundwater at the site. In 1995 cis-1,2-dichloroethene and vinyl chloride contamination was found in soils at the site. In 2000 a remediation effort was undertaken. 1,752 tons of contaminated soil was removed and disposed of in River Birch Landfill in Jefferson Parish. And 12,600 gallons of contaminated groundwater was removed and disposed of in an injection well at what is now Plaquemine Remediation Services LLC in Bayou Sorrell, La.
Over the decades a rectangular tract of land to the west of the plant was used by the facility to dispose of wastes in landfills and treatment ponds. The area now has a 30 foot tall hill of waste covered with a clay “cap.” This waste primarily consists of spent potliner a reactive and corrosive material that contains fluorides and cyanides as well as metals. The former Kaiser Aluminum plant site is now owned by St. Bernard parish and is used for the Chalmette Terminal and Industrial Park.
87.5 LBD – East Chalmette
The neighborhoods on the east side of the City of Chalmette abut the Valero Petroleum Refinery and the Murphy Oil petroleum storage facility which share a large industrial footprint. Residents had become accustomed to the odors and noise of the facilities. Then during Hurricane Katrina, floodwaters that overtopped the levees floated a huge oil storage tank 33 feet off of it’s foundation at the Murphy Oil facility. Over 787,000 gallons of oil spilled from the tank into six square miles of adjacent residential neighborhoods. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and petroleum related organic chemicals were found in residential soil samples. Murphy Oil purchased and tore down 365 homes to create a buffer zone around the facility leaving large vacant areas in the eastern part of the city.
70.25 RBD – Oakville
Oakville, a small African-American community founded by slaves newly freed from area plantations, lies on the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish. in the 1980s the Industrial Pipe landfill was opened adjacent to the community to dispose of construction debris. Over time the landfill obtained permits to accept municipal solid waste and to reduce it’s buffer zone. Residents of Oakville who share a property line with the landfill now have a soil covered hill of waste that starts almost immediately at their fence and is multiple stories tall. Residents have complained of health problems, noxious odors and decreased property values for many years but have gotten little assistance from Government agencies.