St. John Council members want more response from Noranda
Published 12:03 am Saturday, August 20, 2016
GRAMERCY — Two St. John the Baptist Parish Council members say residents concerned with dusting and staining associated with red dirt near the Noranda alumina refinery are having a hard time receiving feedback from plant officials.
Councilmen Larry Sorapuru and Kurt Becnel said they are trying to land a meeting with plant leadership at Noranda Alumina to discuss concerns of the red dust seeping into St. John the Baptist Parish.
Becnel, who lives across the river from the plant in Wallace, said area residents have been asking him to address the issue since he first took office.
“I am a person who lives directly across from that plant, and this is something that is happening consistently,” Becnel said. “I am serious — red dust. My roof is red now. My house, I’ve given up on washing it and painting it.”
At one time Becnel said area residents were given a number to call if red dust emissions were spotted in the area.
“They called that number and didn’t get a response,” Becnel said. “They texted that number and they still didn’t get a response. Those people are very frustrated because when they call they are calling with some serious issues.”
Noranda Vice-President of Communications John Parker said plant officials are not aware of any unresolved dusting concerns.
“When these issues arise, we deal with them as soon as possible after we become aware of them,” Parker said.
According to Parker, residents around Noranda’s alumina refinery can call 225-869-2140, 225-869-2275 or 225-869-2219 to report concerns. He said each number is connected to an active employee.
“If they don’t pick it up, it goes into voicemail,” Parker said, adding an email is generated with each voicemail. “Our policy is to respond as soon as practical, certainly within 24 hours.”
Becnel and Sorapuru contend the dust emissions have continued intermittently since the plant was found to have unpermitted mercury releases.
“The dust still does exist,” Becnel said. “It may seem like it is a month that it doesn’t appear, but it does. What I hope to see happen is through automation, engineering and modern technology a system is put in place where this red dust can be immediately stopped.”
During last week’s Parish Council meeting, Sorapuru said drastic measures should be taken to stop the problem.
“We have technology today to put something in place to stop this and since 1956 this plant has been here,” Sorapuru said. “I know we have local people working in the facility. I’m going to recommend that we idle this plant completely until we solve this dust problem and we take this very seriously. We have a lot of people with respiratory illnesses in this community right now. (This) is a very old community, and it is a shame that people have to live in these conditions.”
While the plant is located in St. James Parish, Sorapuru said it is impacting the residents of St. John the Baptist Parish and it is up to the Parish Council and Parish Government to do something and that starts with a meeting with plant officials.
“Whatever needs to be done we need to get to the table and solve this problem,” Sorapuru said. “That is all that I am asking.”
The refinery is located between Airline Highway and River Road near the West Bank bound approach to Veterans Memorial Bridge. Noranda, which employs approximately 400 local employees, is a multi-national company that gathers bauxite, which is red dirt, from its mining operation in Jamaica. The bauxite is loaded onto ocean-going vessels and transported to the Gramercy refinery, where it is blasted with energy and caustic to covert it into a white sandy powder, creating alumina.
Alumina is the key feedstock in the creation of aluminum. The alumina created in Gramercy is taken by barge to Noranda’s facility in New Madrid, Mo., where primary aluminum is produced.
— Staff writers Kyle Barnett and Stephen Hemelt contributed to this report.