devilsswamp

Devil’s Swamp is located near Scotlandville and Alsen

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY EPA.GOV

In Devil's Swamp, even the crawfish are poisonous.

For years, Rollins Environmental Services released toxic chemicals into the wetlands, and regulators have warned residents not to swim in the area or eat fish or crustaceans from the water.

The state found Polychlorinated Biphenyls — or PCBs — in the 1980s, and in 2004 about 12 square miles of the swamp were declared a Superfund hazardous materials site by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Decades-old pollution may no longer be at the front of people's minds, but Thursday an LSU professor emphasized that though the chemicals were discovered 30 years ago, the books on the case are still open, and people who live and work nearby can still have a say in the swamp's fate.

Devil's Swamp is located along the Mississippi River near Scotlandville and Alsen, a community that's been beset by environmental concerns, most recently that the debris from the August flood was hauled to a site near their homes. However, because the Mississippi floods the swamp every year, the animals in Devil's Swamp wind up washing farther downstream, pointed out Willie Fontenot, a retired staffer with the state Attorney General's office.

Margaret Reams, of the LSU Superfund Research Center, encouraged members of the local chapter of the Sierra Club to learn about the site and contact with agencies like the EPA that have authority over the site.

The club moved its meeting Thursday from its usual site — The Backpacker on Jefferson Highway — to the Greater King David Baptist Church in Scotlandville.

"Keeping our air and water clean and enjoying outdoors are important to people of all races and economic status," the club wrote in a notice explaining why they decided to change the venue. "That way our BR Sierra Club of privileged, white people will get to know people from North Baton Rouge that want to protect our environment and enjoy the outdoors."

A pair of church congregants joined about a dozen Sierra Club members, and the groups briefly discussed how best to mobilize and coordinate efforts to get the swamp cleaned up.

"This is Baton Rouge. It's not an alien, foreign city," Fontenot remarked, saying concerns about Devil's Swamp shouldn't be thought of as just a problem for people in Alsen.

The ultimate goal, Reams explained, is to clean up the pollutants so the land can be put back to use. Other Superfund sites have eventually been cleaned enough that they can be built on, or turned into golf courses.

Perhaps Devil's Swamp can just return to being natural wetlands free from pollutants. 

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.