Filed Under:  Local, News

Isaac raises more concerns about sinkhole

10th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Last week the state sent National Guardsmen to help secure the equipment that was exploring the huge and growing sinkhole in Bayou Corne, Louisiana. The fear was that rain from the storm could further weaken the ground causing the equipment to go under. The sinkhole which has already swallowed a boat is continuing to collapse. Officials are concerned that the salt dome is located near several gas pipelines and that by some accounts it has radiation levels far above state standards.

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the operator Texas Brine claiming that the giant sinkhole may be radioactive and that the failed salt cavern may have breached Napoleonville Dome’s outer wall, causing more danger than previously imagined. It now measures about 526-feet from northeast to southwest and 640-feet from northwest to southeast. Governor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness spokesman Chris­tina Stevens said scientists who looked at the site had anticipated the sinkhole to grow and believe its maximum size would get to 1400 feet across.

The question that citizens and environmental groups keep asking is “How did it get this far out of hand?”

There is also a growing concern for the 150 families that had to be evacuated more than two weeks ago. Their lives are full of uncertainty at this point. “It feels like the displacement feeling that you had during those early days of Katrina,” said environmental lawyer Monique Harden, co director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, based in New Orleans. “You don’t know if you are ever going to come back. You don’t know how to plan, if this is permanent or temporary. You want to build some control around your life so you can recover and heal.”

Harden and others are urging citizens to get involved by contacting the governor’s office and state officials. “Folks should be demanding that the governor’s office provide relief to the folks who have been displaced. That might be coming through the company but the governor’s office has got to manage that process to make sure that it’s fair, that people are not being swindled as with the BP disaster in the early days where people were signing contracts with BP not knowing that they were waving their rights. It took a court order to make that go away. There needs to be immediately an emergency fund set up for folks who have been forced to evacuate because of the sinkhole.”

But Harden’s real concern is that the Bayou Corne sinkhole is not unique as a unchecked, unregulated threat to communities anywhere in the state. There needs to be an investigation and transparent communication from that investigation as to the findings of what caused this and the best way to find solutions.”

Harden told The Louisiana Weekly that families living near the sinkhole are not the only ones who should be concerned. In fact there are 204 salt domes throughout the state, most of them located in the central and southern parts of the state. “Folks should also want to know what is the vulnerability of communities throughout Louisiana of industrial operations of any type. Folks who have not had a sinkhole or explosion should be just as concerned. We need a full-on statewide assessment on vulnerability of communities from industrial disasters, and what safety measures can be put in place to reduce that risk. Right now we don’t have those safety measures. All of us are living on the assurance of a company. That was made clear with the BP disaster. BP said it was safe. There was no evidence, no proof. There were no regulations requiring them. So we just had their word that they would do it in a safe way. BP is no different from any other land based company.”

Harden says the USA should follow the example of other nations who are dealing with the same issues. “In foreign countries where human rights are taken more seriously than they are in the United States, protecting the right to life and health has meant establishing new regulations and laws to protect human lives from industrial disasters and toxic exposures. There are requirements that there be safe distances between residential communities and industrial operations. There are also regulations that require chemicals be tested for their safety before they can be manufactured and put on the market. Right now in the United States we allow any chemical to be manufactured and put on the market and we have to wait until bodies pile up, deaths from exposure, before we do any regulation.”

Harden says that only sweeping change can prevent human-caused disasters such as the British Petroleum spill and the Bayou Corne sinkhole from happening everywhere. “It means a complete cultural shift from looking at industrial operators and owners as the holders of our safety. Our safety is in their hands. That’s what our laws and our policies and the culture of our government have done over the years. Basic human rights are not protected under the laws and regulations we have for industrial operations. Having more people aware and involved is important. This has got to change. Part of the Louisiana statewide assessment needs to be more proactive and more robust in terms of protecting human lives and health around the state. They are miles away from that. That should not be the case.”

This article was originally published in the September 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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