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Dangerous Levels of Radium at Corne Bayou Sinkhole

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Bayou Corne Sinkhole Aug 21, 2012
(Image by Assumption Parish OHSEP)
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Background: For many weeks, Louisiana's Corne and Grand Bayou residents noticed strange bubblings in the bayou, and they reported smelling burnt diesel fuel and sulfur. Then suddenly a sinkhole the size of three football fields appeared on Aug. 3, swallowing scores of 100-foot tall cypress trees. The sinkhole is believed to have resulted from the failure of an abandoned underground brine cavern. The Department of Natural Resources issued a Declaration of Emergency on Aug. 6, and 150 families were evacuated. For maps and additional information, see article "Does Sudden Sinkhole Portend a Nuclear-sized Explosion?" at click here

Stuart Smith, one of the nation's leading environmental attorneys, says that  Stanley Waligora, a New Mexico-based radiation protection consultant and leading authority on health risks of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) has confirmed that radium levels at Bayou Corne's sinkhole are NOT within safe limits.  He says the levels are roughly 15 times higher than the state's acceptable level. 

Smith explained that NORM is a frequent byproduct of the oil and gas drilling process, creating wastes that industry has often then dumped improperly.

LA Dept. of Environmental Quality Mobile Air Monitoring Lab
(Image by Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality)
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On Aug, 21,  Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) noted that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LA DEQ) had been monitoring the air in the areas around the sinkhole, detecting known-carcinogen benzene, as well as toluene, ethylbenzene, and other volatile organic compounds as well as components of natural gas.

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LEAN  also notes that the water in the Bayou Corne sink hole is contaminated with salt water, diesel, chemicals associated with the diesel contaminants such as volatile organic chemicals, ethyl benzene, toluene, xylene and a large number of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene, anthracene, and pyrene.

On August 15, LA DEQ released the results of their testing. Their report, which has been criticized for being poorly written and confusing, seems to indicate that the naturally occurring radioactive materials are occuring at concentrations below acceptable level, in contrast to Waligora's statement. 

Sinkhole site, Aug 6, 2012
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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LEAN states that the health impacts associated with the chemicals detected in the air in the residential area consist of known and possible cancer causing agents, respiratory irritants, and skin, eye, nose, throat, and lung irritants. They note that these chemicals can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, muscle aches and pains, joint pain, abdominal pain and stress.

Even if the concentrations of the chemicals contaminating the air in the residential area were below acceptable standards, LEAN notes that "the cumulative impacts, of the large number of toxic chemicals detected in the air in the residential area, are worthy of tracking potential health impacts and continued air monitoring." LEAN has developed an "Odor and Symptoms" log, to be filled out by residents each time they experience an odor or symptom.

Texas Brine rig prepares to drill a 'relief well,' Aug. 18
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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Texas Brine, owner of the abandoned cavern, was ordered to conduct exploratory activities and bore an investigatory well (called a "relief well")  down to the ceiling of the cavern, about 3,400 feet underground. 

The purpose of the well is to access the interior of the abandoned cavern so that monitoring equipment can be lowered into the cavern to identify cavern stability, internal pressure and contents. On Aug. 23, Texas Brine noted that the drilling operation is on schedule. Public records  show that the daily cost is over $67,000; and the cumulative cost through August 23 was $717,388.

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Bubble site in the bayou
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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The Assumption Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness  (EOP) issued  a statement that a new bubble site was discovered on Aug 20 between sites #3 and #4 in Grand Bayou. The bubbling is small and  EOP says they will be monitored daily as the others have been. Residents first reported bubble sites several months ago.

At  the public meeting in Pierre Part on Aug. 24,  Chris Knotts, the Dept. of Natural Resources' (DNR) civil engineer who is coordinating the science group studying the sinkhole, told the crowd "If it's as simple as a casing, yes (it can be fixed)," but "If it's a cavern fracture, failure, whatever, there's little that you can do."

Smith said, "In Bayou Corne, we are witnessing our worst nightmares coming true."


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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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