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TOM FOX/dallasnews.com -- Clean up workers vacumn up oil sludge from a Chalmette, La. neighborhood, Tuesday, September 6, 2005.

The Thermaldyne industrial recycling facility near Port Allen has opened for business despite several ongoing legal challenges.

The company began advertising job openings in The Advocate over the weekend and told the paper it began operations last week and will start processing sludge in the coming week.

Environmentalists and another recycling company have filed for a court stay and temporary restraining order to halt operations at Thermaldyne, but judges have yet to rule on either.

The lawsuits are directed more toward the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The agency's press secretary, Greg Langley, on Tuesday declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Plaintiffs have argued that DEQ was overly lax in evaluating Thermaldyne's permit application.

TDX — a competitor that operates a similar recycling facility in Robstown, Texas, near Corpus Christi — argued that the state of Louisiana is hurting its business by giving Thermaldyne "carte blanche" to treat toxins in potentially dangerous ways. TDX attorney Beaux Jones referred questions to court documents.

"TDX's business would suffer from the lost profits of waste streams being siphoned from its legitimate recycling facility to Thermaldyne, and from the erosion of years-long customer relationships with clients in Louisiana whose trust and confidence is being eroded in legitimate operations due to Thermaldyne and LDEQ's actions," TDX wrote in court filings.

041719 Thermaldyne plant North Line

"LDEQ has lapped the competition in its race to the bottom of hazardous waste regulation and allowing Thermaldyne to begin operations through this regulatory sleight of hand will result in irreparable injury to the national industry of legitimate hazardous waste recyclers."

Thermaldyne has characterized the opposition as coming from misinformed residents and environmentalists and a company that is its business competition.

"Thermaldyne's an environmental solutions company. … We feel like we've answered all the environmental questions," Thermaldyne spokesman Paul Rainwater said this week.

The company will work with oil refineries to receive sludge from the bottom of oil tanks and separate the components to create recyclable products that can be returned to refiners to make products like motor oil, Rainwater said.

The facility is permitted to process 500 tons of material per day, or up to 180,000 tons per year, Thermaldyne spokeswoman Christy Olliff wrote in an email to The Advocate.

The site continues to staff up: about 40 employees have been hired so far, and the site could support up to 75, Rainwater and Oliff said.

Rainwater declined to discuss the lawsuits in detail but said the company has secured all the necessary permits from DEQ and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

One permit, however, has presented a "puzzling" situation, Louisiana Environmental Action Network attorney Clay Garside wrote in an email to The Advocate.

A Baton Rouge district judge had previously ordered DEQ to require Thermaldyne to disclose more information about substances it might release into water.

The company, however, pulled its water permit request, claiming it won't discharge water, while state authorities have appealed to the state circuit court, Garside said. He wondered why state regulators won't investigate what pollution may be introduced into the environment.

"LDEQ's every decision in this process has had the effect of preventing the public's concerns over Thermaldyne from being informed, heard, or considered," he wrote.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.