As the city and state released statements on the removal of hazardous waste from beneath the surface of a Gert Town street, WVUE Fox 8 News revealed documents indicating the Mayor’s Office and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had detected 100 times the normal level of radium at the street surface.
Residents of the area surrounding the site filed a class-action lawsuit in June claiming the city knew about the radioactive materials as far back as 2013 and did nothing.
In a 2010 report, the EPA estimated that there are about 15 brownfields — former industrial sites with potential contamination — in Gert Town and 40 in Central City.
Mayor’s Office statement on the hazardous waste removal:
The City announced Wednesday that the final four of six total containers with underground material from the work site in the Lowerline and Coolidge area have been removed for transport to Anders, Texas. In May 2018, the Cantrell administration learned about the presence of underground material producing radiation below the road surface at the intersection of Lowerline Street and Coolidge Court. While the origin of the material is unknown, it was removed out of an abundance of caution.
“I have been clear about how my administration would approach this issue from the time we learned about it,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell. “Our goal is always to protect the health and safety of residents. Throughout the process, my team has been in constant communication with our federal and state partners who have been monitoring the removal process and have not reported any increased risk to the public.”
In December 2018, the city and its maintenance contractor engaged Baton Rouge-based ARS Aleut Remediation (AAR) to remove and dispose of what had been identified as a small amount of hazardous material located beneath the surface of the Lowerline Street and Coolidge Court intersection. During the course of this work, the team, which also included the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, discovered that the contamination area was larger than originally anticipated and would need to be addressed as part of a subsequent effort.
Then in February 2019, the city also engaged the Environmental Protection Agency to work alongside the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to develop the plan to address the larger contamination area on Lowerline Street between Olive and Edinburgh streets. This plan included notifying residents in advance of the start of work in May 2019, when representatives from the City’s Health Department and the Department of Public Works canvassed within a two block radius of the location to talk with residents and distribute information about the existing hazards and what to expect during the removal process.
Work began on Tuesday, May 28 and took about three weeks to complete. The EPA was responsible for the removal of the containers; for further questions or concerns about the removal, call EPA Region 6 External Affairs at (214) 665-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality statement on radiological contamination in Gert Town:
In early May 2018, the Department of Energy informed LDEQ that a 2013 security scan of the Gert Town area had indicated a location where radioactivity was noted above background levels. Readings suggested a subsurface source beneath Lowerline Street. The agency assessed the DOE information and then notified the city a couple of days later, in mid-May 2018. Out of caution, the city decided to proceed with remediation of the low-level source and contracted with a remediation company to complete the remediation project.
When the company began the work in December 2018, the remediation crew found that the radiological contamination in the subsurface soils was spread over a larger area than originally anticipated. The remediation company refilled the hole in the street, removed the contaminated material already excavated, disposed of it properly and notified the city that the project exceeded the scope of the original contract.
The city consulted with LDEQ and LDEQ assisted the city in contacting EPA for federal assistance. The federal agency agreed to provide the contractors, oversee the remediation of the contamination, provide for disposal and fund the project. That work began in April 2019 and is now complete.
LDEQ was on-site for the duration of the EPA project, deploying radiation sensing equipment. At no point did LDEQ record any readings high enough to present a risk to the public in the adjacent community.