St. Rose area residents held a community meeting Tuesday, July 25 at the St. Rose Library to discuss air quality issues residents believe were caused by aggregate material recently being loaded and unloaded on the nearby Mississippi River.
Organized by local community member Becky Thomas, around 45 local residents gathered to discuss the matter. Representatives from local homeowner associations were also present at the St. Rose meeting, citing similar concerns over air quality.
“We’ve been having a lot of problems and complaints from our homeowners, especially the ones who live right by the river,” William Ortiz, president of the 124-member Highland Homeowners Association, said following the meeting.
Thomas said she and local residents recently began seeing daily large plumes of white dust clouds generated from behind the Mississippi River levee around the River Bend area, which then settled on vehicles and homes.
“Over the past week, or week and a half, we’ve all been noticing a bunch of dust on our cars – I myself took my vehicle to the car wash four times last week,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the dusty plumes appeared to be caused by some sort of aggregate material such as concrete mix being unloaded from a large ship to nearby barges. Given the region’s recent bout of record-setting dry and hot weather, the process of moving the material appears to have released a fine dust into the air of the surrounding area.
“Finally, I ended up calling the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) about it,” Thomas said.
EOC referred Thomas and others to report the matter to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), which she says she and around 10 other St. Rose residents each filed formal complaints to.
“We’re breathing in all this dust; this product that we’re breathing…can be very bad for your health, your respiratory system,” Thomas said. “If you’re sitting out on your back patio, and you’re grilling and this dust is just floating in the air, you’re having it in your food, the kids’ toys; everything is impacted.”
Thomas said the LDEQ came out Wednesday, July 26 to investigate the complaints, when she was able to speak with investigators directly.
“I showed the pictures and the videos that I’ve been taking daily of this process that’s going on,” Thomas said. “They were very interested, and they said when they left the neighborhood they were going over to talk to [the shipowner].”
Thomas said she suspected the plumes may have been caused by a local area business, Mississippi River Ventures LLC. After further contact with that company, the Herald-Guide was informed Mississippi River Ventures LLC did not own the vessel, barges or products involved, only owning the portion of land the large ship temporarily docked at. The dusty material appears instead to have emanated from a Panamanian-flagged vessel unloading its cargo. A representative from Mississippi River Ventures, LLC advised on July 27 the large Panamanian vessel was scheduled to sail away in a few days or sooner.
Thomas and Ortiz both said they plan to continue to monitor the situation, and now await the outcome of the LDEQ’s investigation.