ST. JOHN – For several years, Robert Taylor says people in his neighborhood have been worried about their health. Taylor, the President of Concerned Citizens of St. John, says he is fearful a new proposal by the Noranda Alumina Plant could make matters worse.
According to the New Orleans Advocate, the manufacturing facility – which extracts alumina from bauxite – wants to modify their permit to allow the plant to emit up to 1,500 pounds of Mercury into the air.
Greg Langly with the Department of Environmental Quality says the plant unknowingly did it in the past, but since then has changed leadership.
“They thought that the mercury in the ore that they were processing was bound up in the extraction process,” Langly said. “But they found some elemental mercury in the plant.”
Mercury can be harmful to the environment as well as people if there’s a substantial amount. Pregnant women and young children are cautioned to avoid eating fish from waterways that have high mercury levels.
Residents like Allison Pardo of Gramercy are worried about the lasting damages not just on St. James Parish, but across the state.
“The wind blows so, I’m sure wherever the wind blows, it’s going to eventually make its way towards North, South, East, or West,” Pardo said. “It can go to Baton Rouge just as well as it can go to New Orleans.”
Sidney Oubre of Lutcher said he would prefer to not see the change happened but also sees the benefits companies like Noranda Alumina have on his town’s finances.
“People have to have jobs in order to have a good quality of life,” Oubre said. “And the kinds of jobs they have are at the oil refinery, sugar refinery, the aluminum plants. They all have good paying jobs.”
The DEQ says they have checked and the permit proposal does not violate any air standards. They also said the mercury limit in Louisiana is 1.19 micrograms per cubic meter.
The DEQ will take the comments from Tuesday’s public hearing into consideration before anything is passed.
As far as the dangers of Mercury, the state program to test fish for mercury was shut down due to budget cuts shortly after Governor Bobby Jindal took office in 2008.
The program started again in 2016, thanks to the Clean Air Act violations by NRG Louisiana Generating.
The company agreed to pay $1.5 million for the program rather than pay fines.
Women who pregnant or nursing and young children should avoid eating fish from those waterways because the mercury they contain can cause neurological problems.
For older children and adults, the guidelines vary depending on the type of fish. It is generally safe to eat one or two servings of fish caught in those waterways a week.