Environmentalists demand action to address shifting waste pile at Convent plant

Updated: Feb. 6, 2019 at 4:21 PM CST
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CONVENT, LA (WVUE) - Environmental groups are calling for action based on concerns about a shifting waste pile in St. James Parish that they say is radioactive and unstable.

The waste pile is a mountain of gypsum at Mosaic’s Uncle Sam fertilizer plant in Convent.

Environmental groups are calling on the governor and even the president to declare a state of emergency. They also want the plant shut down and the military to come in to move the pile that they fear may collapse.

A collapse could send hundreds of millions of gallons of acidic waste water into the surrounding marshes and nearby Blind River. Environmental groups say that release would be catastrophic to all aquatic life.

“There is no other recourse right now than to have this plant shut down immediately and this radioactive material be shipped away,” said the Rev. Gregory Manning with the group Justice and Beyond. “We’re standing here in solidarity and unity to declare that we will stand for nothing less.”

On Jan. 10, Mosaic sent a letter to state regulators advising them that the north slope of one of the stacks is moving. The company has said it’s taking immediate action and they’ve been pumping process water from the pond, hoping to relieve pressure from the shifting slope. The company has also said the safety of its employees, the community and the environment are its main focus, and they have experts on site.

Following is their statement in full:

"Mosaic’s Uncle Sam fertilizer manufacturing facility will remain open. For more than 50 years, Mosaic’s Louisiana employees have worked hard helping the world grow the food it needs. Mosaic is deeply committed to protecting the environment and operating a safe facility for our employees and the community. Our company works daily to promote a positive safety culture and remains dedicated to improving our health, safety and environmental performance.

"St. James Parish is our home. Our company has been and will continue to be a devoted partner committed to volunteering in our community and supporting local organizations, schools, and the difference these groups make in the lives of those in the communities where we live and work. Our Louisiana team numbers 400 strong. That’s 400 employees with families; employees who volunteer; employees with deep roots; and a commitment to being a good neighbor.

"We are actively transferring process water from the north cell of the facility’s gypsum stack to other impoundments at the facility. Removal of this water is expected to reduce pressure on the stack slope and stop the movement. Additionally, construction has commenced on a stability berm which will provide counter force to the moving slope.

"We have contingency plans in place to contain the process water on site. We have blocked culverts which lead to local waterways and wetlands. Also, we have begun constructing a containment berm in the cane field.

“The safety of our employees, our community and the environment is our main focus so we’re doing all we can to keep everyone informed.”

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