Black smoke emanates from burn pits at the Clean Harbors Colfax hazardous waste disposal facility in Grant Parish. (Photo courtesy of CSWAB)
Neighbors of a hazardous waste disposal facility in Central Louisiana should hear soon from state regulators regarding health issues they have linked to burn pits used at the site, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
On the Louisiana Radio Network’s monthly “” show, Edwards fielded a pointed question about the proposed permit renewal for a hazardous waste facility in Grant Parish. Residents who live near Clean Harbors Colfax have urged the administration to take action against the facility they say has been sickening their community for decades.
It’s been little over a month since the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) closed the public comment period on the continued operation of Clean Harbors Colfax, which has been in business since 2002. Alongside a planned contained burning system, the permit, as drafted, would allow for the continued open burning and detonation of waste materials. Since 2015, materials disposed have included munitions from Camp Minden too toxic to be placed in landfills and old fireworks from Disney World.
At a Dec. 15 hearing, all 25 people who addressed LDEQ representatives spoke in opposition to the permit’s renewal. Researchers from the LSU Superfund Research Project said heavy metals, residue from toxic chemicals and harmful particulate matter traceable to the waste streams at Clean Harbors Colfax have been collected in air filters as far as 10 miles from the burn pits.
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The caller who asked the governor about Clean Harbors Colfax is Brian Salvatore, a chemistry professor at LSU Shreveport who has tracked community impacts near the facility. In 2019, Salvatore, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives against incumbent Rep. Alan Seabaugh, one of the legislature’s most conservative members.
Salvatore asked Edwards why he hasn’t “shown stronger leadership” and pushed LDEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown to bring problems at the facility “to an end.”
Edwards explained that LDEQ was still reviewing public comments it has received, and that he hadn’t “received final word from the agency as to what that’s going to look like going forward.”
The governor acknowledged Grant Parish residents and others have expressed concern about the open burning of the materials.
“I know that that is being looked at very hard,” Edwards said.
As for when he might receive LDEQ’s recommendation for action on the permit, Edwards said didn’t think it would be much longer.
“Dr. Carr Brown is obviously interested in protecting our environment, but also making sure that all of the standards that are enforceable are in fact enforced,” Edwards said.
Salvatore also expressed concern over the open burning of “very hazardous chemicals” in his question to the governor.
“We are looking at the things that you just mentioned, and they were all part of the public comment that they are putting together,” Edwards said.
In a subsequent phone interview with the Illuminator, Salvatore said he was surprised at the governor’s deference to the LDEQ secretary.
“He acts like Brown is his boss rather than the other way around,” Salvatore said.
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