DEQ citation expected after white dust enters businesses near the port

DEQ citation expected after white dust enters businesses near the port

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality expects to issue a citation after white dust, identified as aluminum oxide, wafted out of the Port of New Orleans and into some nearby businesses.

The port and businesses in the vicinity said it happened again this week.

"I wiped this down as soon as I came in yesterday, and once again, I have to wipe it down again,” said Michael Mason, who works at Disco Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street.

Some of the powdery white substance was still visible inside the business a day later.

"This back corner is completely covered and needs to be dusted,” said Mason.

William Schoen, owns Uptown Imports, Inc., and has been dealing with the dust for close to two weeks.

"Everything I have in my business is covered with this material,” said Schoen.

A spokesman for DEQ said while aluminum oxide is non-toxic, it can be a mild irritant to skin and eyes. Mason said his eyes were affected.

"I definitely have had some eye irritation,” he said.

Schoen said the substance’s non-toxic designation aside, he remains concerned.

"It’s hard to imagine that it’s good for you. I mean, we’re sitting here breathing [it], your eyes are itching, you know, it’s a tough thing to believe that it’s not harmful,” said Schoen.

The Port issued the following statement:

“After our tenant, Coastal Cargo, began to transfer dry bulk commodity at their Louisiana Ave. Terminal Complex on February 14, nearby residents and businesses began to complain about excessive dust. Transfer of this dry bulk commodity, which was completed yesterday, February 27, took longer than expected due to weather conditions.

The Port takes this matter seriously. As complaints grew, we: contacted our tenant; visited the site with DEQ, the regulatory authority over dust control; set up a community hotline, responded to residents and businesses; and asked the tenant to immediately take all necessary actions to mitigate the dust control issue.

General rules regulating maritime activity for non-extreme weather might not have addressed this situation. According to records, the tenant handled the same commodity in January with no issues. We are working with Coastal Cargo to identify causes and mitigation measures specific to that product as well as directly with DEQ to ensure our tenant’s operations are conducted safely and responsibly.”

People in the area hope the problem is over, for good.

Schoen said the dust has caused his business extra money.

"I’ve had a cleanup crew in here this week cleaning all the surfaces, all the hard shelves and wiping everything down and sweeping the shop out,” he said.

DEQ said its investigation is ongoing and that the incidents are expected to result in a citation.

"Anything helps, you know, but hopefully they take action on what’s happening,” said Schoen.

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