NEW ORLEANS —
A community is looking for clarity more than 10 days after radioactive materials were found buried under Lowerline Street in Gert Town.
“They don’t care because it’s a black community," said Gregory Walker, who has called Gert Town home for more than 60 years.
“If it was white community they would have done something about it, especially if it was on St. Charles Ave,” he said.
Earlier this month, crews with hazmat suits dug into the street to remove radioactive materials from Lowerline Street but the area is still fenced off and neighbors still have many concerns.
About a hundred of those concerned neighbors flooded into First Zion Baptist Church on Monday night. Attorney Madro Bandaries was also there. He has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and the remediation contractor.
“We want to know what the contractor knows,” said Bandaries. “And we are going to find out.”
The lawsuit alleges the City of New Orleans knew about the radioactive materials on Lowerline Street as far back as 2013. The discovery -- the lawsuit claims -- was made while scanning for security threats ahead of the Super Bowl. Bandaries says it was supposed to have been cleaned up years before.
“This matter -- apparently -- was supposed to have been settled in 1996. There was a $52 million (remediation) payout. Was it settled or are these properties deranged to the effect that people shouldn’t be living here?” he asked.
The lawsuit claims neighbors within three blocks of the site on Lowerline Street were at risk of exposure to Radium-226 and radiation. So were those in the area of the old Thompson-Hayward Chemical company, now an auto-parts store.
“I have a sister who died of cancer two years ago and we all grew up in this neighborhood and I am wondering if this has something to do with it,” said former Gert Town resident Kim Phillips. “It’s unbelievable how they could put this right in our backyards and we never knew anything. We never had a clue.”
Answering who is responsible may take months or years. Neighbors are worried about waiting, “...because I don’t think it’s been cleaned up all the way,” said Phillips.