Jefferson Parish residents concerned about future cyanide plant in Waggaman

Jefferson Parish residents concerned about future cyanide plant in Waggaman

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Some Jefferson Parish residents are concerned about the potential impact of a new cyanide plant on their quality of life. They worry it may be too late to stop the project, but it’s something they’re vowing to speak out against.

River Ridge resident Gwen Killen said she doesn’t have to be a chemist to be fearful of living near a cyanide plant.

“It could kill us, it could harm our human life, so we’re very concerned on the impact it will have over our health, but now we’re concerned about whether our property values will go down,” Killen said.

Cornerstone Chemical Company, which sits a couple miles from Killen’s home, submitted a proposal to the Jefferson Parish Planning Advisory Board to amend an existing permit. Amending the permit would allow the company to install two cyanide storage tanks and build a new hydrogen cyanide manufacturing unit. In January 2018, the council approved it.

Killen fears that with big business right across the river in Waggaman, council members chose money over the safety of residents.

“For them to understand this is a huge issue a cyanide plant is nothing to laugh at - that is a very serious chemical,” Killen said.

In a statement, Cornerstone Chemical said they conduct safe operations. The plant’s chief operating officer said the $20 million project would “modernize and improve processes” and their “economic competitiveness."

As a local business owner and resident, Mike O’Brien said he understands profitability, but he said the council never should have approved a cyanide plant at the expense of surrounding neighborhoods.

“It’s the what ifs we need to worry about," he said. "What if the next hurricane comes that causes this plant to shut down, flood. We’ve seen how disastrous that can be in Houston,” said O’Brien.

As part of the permitting process, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing regarding Cornerstone’s permit. O’Brien fears that while the public may voice concerns, the concerns will fall on deaf ears.

“Do I honestly think something’s going to be done? No. Let’s face it, we’re talking about a lot of power, big company, a lot of money and politics,” said O’Brien.

Killen also worries it’s a losing battle, but said in trying to protect her home and family, it’s a battle she’ll continue to fight.

"We’re going to become part of Cancer Alley that it’s moving downstream from the Destrehan area, and it’s going to continue on because money talks,” said Killen.

The public hearing will be held Tuesday evening (Feb. 12) at the Waggaman playground.

There’s also been a petition circulating against the cyanide plant. More than 700 residents and business owners have signed it.

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