NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As crews removed the last bin of radioactive material found underneath a Gert Town street Wednesday (July 3), FOX 8 obtained documents revealing 100 times the normal level of radium could be detected at surface level in some places.
According to a document from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the City of New Orleans that was labeled not for public release, the EPA found radium-226 contamination 24 to 30 inches below the surface in a crushed oyster shell road base. At the surface of the street, hot spots were detected with readings more than 100 times background levels, or the low levels of radium that everyone is exposed to from the air, the water or even in food.
Eric Lassair lives in the area and said the neighborhood is worried.
“I spoke to folks this morning. They’re still concerned about their health issues, current and in the past. They don’t trust the city or what’s going on,” Lassair said.
The city document goes on to state there was no indication that the radiation spread from beneath the road. However, it also reports gamma radiation goes through layers of soil and asphalt to the surface of the street and people standing or walking on the street may receive exposure to radiation above background levels.
FOX 8 also obtained a Power Point presentation from the remediation company initially hired to remove the material. In it, the company reported there was metallic debris discovered in the bottom of the excavation, which may be the source of the radiation.
According to the presentation, the company theorized that in the 1940s or 1950s, a radium source such as a plumb bob -- a device used to test welding seams -- was lost in the area of Lowerline and Coolidge streets.
“The citizens, I think should have been removed months ago or warned months ago in terms of what’s going on you know, where are the answers? We’re still looking for them,” Lassair said.
Now, residents have filed a class action lawsuit against the city and the remediation company initially brought in to remove the waste. An attorney representing the more than 1,000 plaintiffs in the suit said the city didn’t give adequate notice when they gave neighbors a flyer warning them of the upcoming construction.
The leaflet is dated May 18, 2019 and stated that the EPA, LDEQ and the city would begin removing soil contaminated by radiation. The attorney, Steven Rando, said the city should have done more.
“This is not adequate notice, not at all. Some people didn’t even get it," Rando said.
Rando said his team obtained a list the city used to determine who to contact.
“The contact list had about six people on it, one of which was Eric’s mother who died 8 years ago. And that’s who they wanted to notify,” Rando said.
During a late afternoon press conference Wednesday, Mayor Latoya Cantrell addressed the situation in Gert Town on camera for the first time.
“In regards to if it was handled the best way possible, I would say absolutely,” Cantrell said. “Being concerned about our residents will always be our priority and I stand by not only our swift actions but also wanting to ensure the future safety of residents there.”
The mayor went on to say the city was not satisfied with the removal of the bins containing the radioactive waste. She said the city did not rest until they were taken off the streets, which she said the city expected to happen several weeks ago.