ST. JAMES PARISH, La. — A reservoir in St. James Parish is in danger of spilling millions of gallons of acidic water.
The Mosaic Company, one of the world's leading fertilizer producers is working to fortify the breach at the site near Convent in St. James Parish.
Neighbors around the reservoir said they hope a fix can keep one of its walls from collapsing, which would send the mineral waste into waterways and wetlands.
Gail LaBouef lives part-time on property just a quarter-mile from the 200-foot tall reservoir which typically holds back about 800 million gallons of acidic waste. However, one of its northern walls has been shifting.
"I mean, will it collapse?" LeBouef asked.
She is just one of the dozens of residents who live near the waste pond owned by the Mosaic Company, based out of Minneapolis.
"We don't know what's in there, we only know what they say is in there," LeBouef said.
She said she's worried efforts to stop a breach won't work in time and the great concern for some is: What if the acidic water enters waterways?
Daryl Malek-Wiley with the Sierra Club in New Orleans said if that does happen, the contamination would be widespread.
"It would go into the Blind River watershed into Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain," Malek-Wiley said.
These concerns have been growing since December.
Greg Langley, the press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality says a sugar cane farmer discovered that the ground had moved, signaling that the reservoir's wall was weakening.
"When he cut the cane and when he harvested it, they found that there was a 5-foot bulge in it. It is an emergency, we have responders there everyday," Langley said.
Mosaic officials said what's happening is a slow lateral movement of an isolated area. LDEQ officials confirmed that the slope is moving about an inch a day.
The company also said the contaminated water had close to a "2" rating in acidity, meaning state and federal permitting laws dictate the company must not allow direct discharge of the water.
The company is now transferring the wastewater and building a berm.
"We do not see a collapse as imminent," Langley added.
LDEQ along with the Environmental Protection Agency are monitoring the breach closely, officials said.
That's little relief, however, to residents living in the shadow of the reservoir, they said; even the possibility of a collapse is worrying enough.