Health concerns over Clean Harbors Colfax continue

On Sept. 30, the media outlet Vice published a documentary on Youtube, detailing issues surrounding the Clean Harbors waste disposal facility in Colfax.
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 5:16 PM CDT
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COLFAX, La. (KALB) - On Sept. 30, the media outlet Vice published a documentary on YouTube, detailing issues surrounding the Clean Harbors waste disposal facility in Colfax.

Clean Harbors disposes of “drum and bulk hazardous waste in liquid, solid, semi-solid, sludge and gas forms.” These materials include carcinogenic chemicals and explosives like munitions, airbags and fireworks.

The way Clean Harbors disposes of the waste is by setting it on fire on ‘open burn / open detonation platforms’ that produce loud booms and plumes of smoke that fall on the surrounding areas. It is the only open burn / open detonation facility in the country.

Locals in the area have been dealing with the fallout for decades, and some are involved in the Central Louisiana Coalition for Clean Air and Healthy Environment. For several years, members of the Coalition have rigorously documented every time plumes of smoke and noises leave the facility property, then report that to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Members of the Coalition believe the smoke and noise have been taking a toll on the health of those exposed to it, even claiming it causes skin lesions, blisters, headaches and cancer.

“My main concern is the emissions that are coming from the facility at this time,” said Brenda Vallee, President of the Coalition.

“Why does rural Grant Parish have to put up with this when the rest of the state, the rest of the United States, have controlled burn chambers that emit clean air? It’s just not fair,” said Carl Ray Lasyone, a Coalition member.

The hundreds of complaints filed against Clean Harbors can be found on the LDEQ website by CLICKING HERE and using 32096 as the AI number.

Currently, LDEQ and the EPA are reviewing Clean Harbors’ request for a new Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit, which would allow them to construct a ‘closed-burn unit’ and continue operating. Closed-burn units filter smoke and byproducts before being released into the atmosphere as more than 99% clean air. Those units are the industry standard.

Yet, the permit requires Clean Harbors to use the closed burn unit for approximately 90% of the waste accepted at the facility, adding it assures “only wastes that cannot safely be processed or disposed of by an alternative method are authorized to be open burned.”

“That is a unit that would be no emission and would dispose of their waste stream, or about 80 or 90% of it, in the closed unit,” said LDEQ Press Secretary Greg Langley. “That (permit) is currently being processed by LDEQ and EPA and we expect some movement on it, maybe we will move into the next phase of it by the end of the year.”

As the permit request rests in the hands of LDEQ and EPA, several locals believe harm has already been done over the past several decades of Clean Harbors’ open burning and detonating in the area.

Now, there is a class action lawsuit being brought against the company, and it already has around 100 participants looking for reparations.

“The lawsuit we filed in Grant Parish and they (Clean Harbors) transferred it to federal court, they didn’t want to be in the local district court, they transferred it to federal court,” said Attorney Stephen Hecker, who is working the case along with the Thomas B. Wahlder firm and the Martzell, Bickford & Centola firm. “So, right now we are kind of in the discovery phase where they produce documents stuff like that, and we have a status conference coming up with the judge to discuss different deadlines.”

That status conference is scheduled for Oct. 18.

Hecker added more details from statements given by his clients.

“They complain of loud explosions and smoke plumes, and they can smell the smoke and it smells very toxic and has a bad odor,” said Hecker. “The debris and ashes fall on people’s skin and causes rashes, so we are very concerned about that. Some other things clients have complained about are children being scared of the shock waves, and the loud noises, along with their animals and pets, and also the explosions knocking pictures and things off their walls. With the smoke plumes, everyone is concerned about the chemicals they are inhaling out here.”

You can view the full lawsuit below:

Clean Harbors and most of the affected people reside in District 22, State Representative Gabe Firment’s district. Rep. Firment provided this comment on the situation:

“Since taking office in January of 2020, I have communicated with constituents and stakeholders around Clean Harbors Colfax, and I have encouraged the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to fulfill their responsibilities to the people of Colfax, Grant Parish, and surrounding communities. I have consistently advocated for a solution that protects the people and natural resources of Grant Parish, while also protecting the families whose livelihoods depend on the continued operation of CHC in a safe and legal manner. Based upon my knowledge of the situation, the contained burn chamber that has been proposed will allow CHC to continue its operations in a manner that virtually eliminates or greatly reduces the level of emissions produced by open burning.

It is my understanding that the CHC draft permit is currently under review by the EPA, and will soon be available for public comment. I have formally requested that LDEQ release a public statement regarding the status of the permit and current operations at Clean Harbors Colfax. Until a solution is found I will continue to work with all stakeholders – most importantly the families and citizens of Grant Parish who call this beautiful piece of Louisiana home.”

District 22 State Represenative Gabe Firment

KALB did contact Clean Harbors for comment, but we have not heard back yet.

KALB will continue to follow this story as more details on the state of Clean Harbor’s new permit, and the class action lawsuit becomes available.

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