LDEQ air quality monitoring lab plans to study wood-treatment facilities in Alexandria-Pineville

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 3:48 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - On Nov. 3, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality $422,255 to conduct air quality monitoring in the Alexandria-Pineville area between two wood-treating facilities.

LDEQ plans to use the grant money to construct an air quality monitoring lab to collect data from the area around the facilities, looking specifically for chemicals that exceed an acceptable threshold.

“This will give us monitoring data over a year or possibly two years of monitoring data, continuous monitoring data, and obviously the larger the sample size that you have, the better the data,” said Jason Meyers, LDEQ Administrator of Air Planning and Assessment.

The wood-treating facilities in question, one in Alexandria and the other in Pineville, were first opened in 1926 and 1948 respectively. The facilities are now owned by the Stella Jones Corporation, a Canadian-based company that manufactures treated-wood products like railroad ties and utility poles. The process in which the wood is treated uses harmful chemicals like pentachlorophenol and creosote and emits pollutants and a strong odor.

“It’s just a real pungent, horrible odor,” said Wilma Subra, Technical Advisor to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

The odor from the facilities has led residents in the area to file hundreds of complaints with LDEQ, concerned that the polluted air is causing adverse health effects. You can read the complaint reports by CLICKING HERE and using 11928 as the AI number.

“The health effects can be a whole host of types of cancer, as well as what we call acute impact respiratory problems, skin rashes, having difficulty breathing, not being able to sleep,” said Subra.

LDEQ said there is no official start date for the project, nor a projected date when construction of the lab will begin. LDEQ said even if the results of the air monitoring lab find that the pollutants from the facilities exceed the acceptable threshold, further investigation must be done before any changes, fines or shutdowns of the facilities can be done.

The issue, as Subra points out, is that studies have already been conducted on the pollutants that the facilities produce, and the health impacts that come with them. One study from 2016 showed that air sampled from the Alexandria facility had 7.9 times the EPA threshold of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a toxic byproduct of the wood treatment process. The air sampled near the Pineville facility saw a PAH level 11.7 times the EPA threshold.

In the same study conducted in 2016, blood samples were taken from people who lived within a two-mile radius of each facility. Results showed that residents who lived near the Alexandria facility had a blood dioxin level that was 3.6 times the national average. People living within a two-mile radius of the Pineville facility had a dioxin level 7.8 times the national average. Dioxins are another type of pollutant emitted from industrial manufacturing processes.

The study also showed that pollution had contaminated the soil and waterways near the facilities, including homes and schools.

Subra said the data that will be collected during this new LDEQ project will likely confirm what is already known, that the facilities are polluting the air around Alexandria-Pineville.

“This will be a mechanism to once again prove it, because the initial study proved it, and have the communities demand that something be done based on this ‘new data’,” said Subra. “Not that this new data will show that things are any better than they were, 10, 15, 20 years ago.”

The Stella Jones Corporation was contacted for a comment but has not yet provided one.

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