On Nov. 21, 2015, 99.7 percent of the registered voters living in the Alsen and St. Irma Lee communities of East Baton Baton Parish voted in support of Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards for governor. Ronaldson Field LLC was first permitted to operate as a landfill under the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Foster in 1998. The landfill was re-permitted in 2008 under Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Under Edwards’ administration, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has received the draft for a solid waste permit and technically complete solid waste permit renewal application for Ronaldson Field. That process will involve Edwards’ DEQ secretary, Chuck Carr Brown, whose primary responsibility is to promote and protect health, safety and welfare while considering sound policies regarding employment and economic development in communities like Alsen and St. Irma Lee.
Alsen and St. Irma Lee residents live within two to three miles of the Ronaldson Field landfill site and for 20 years have reported numerous cases of lung and other cancers. Respiratory diseases are common in Alsen and St. Irma Lee children.
Under the administration of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, the city of Baton Rouge no longer uses Ronaldson Field as a dumping site. However, the landfill is permitted by DEQ to accept waste from East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Iberville, Ascension, and Livingston parishes. All of these parishes have been allowed to dump “on” the small communities made up of African-Americans. EBR, WBR and Ascension have all opposed recent applications filed with DEQ in their own communities. Yet, in order to be economical, DEQ has approved Ronaldson Field landfill operator Sid Brian to distribute costs over a larger client base by adding multiple parishes. Ronaldson Field can be classified as a "megafill," taking in waste from an area extended beyond local and even state boundaries.
Research has linked exposure to air and water pollution from some old-style landfills, like 20-year old Ronaldson Field, to human health problems such as developmental abnormalities, low birth weights, and cancer. Anecdotal reports from residents suggest high instances of stomach and cervical cancer among women living near Ronaldson Field landfill and a numerous incidences of stomach, liver, and prostate cancer in men. This underscores the need for scientific studies to address those concerns.
I believe the potential health risk presented by this landfill is often overlooked by DEQ.
Groundwater contamination poses the other main risk of Ronaldson Field landfill. With no liners, chemicals from discarded items such as batteries, paints, and cleaners can leach directly into underground aquifers used for drinking water. Concerns about leachate from Ronaldson Field landfill are compounded by the difficulty of knowing what the fills contain because of weak restrictions on the types of things that could be dumped.
Not knowing what landfills contain makes it difficult to know what types of toxicants to test for and what types of interactions may occur between different materials. The practice of Ronaldson Field covering fills with a layer of dirt once a month, which is minimally required by DEQ, has not helped to reduce this threat in the communities of Alsen and St. Irma Lee. During the eight years Jindal served as governor, DEQ did not collect or record data relevant to the complaints concerning Ronaldson Field.
The potential health impacts on Alsen and St. Irma Lee residents living near Ronaldson Field landfill has never been adequately considered. Neither DEQ nor any other agency has fully studied health data nor taken into the landfill’s negative economic impact on the neighborhood.
On behalf of the people who live, work, play and worship in the communities of Alsen and St. Irma Lee, I urge Edwards to close Ronaldson Field. Give these people a return on their 99.7 percent vote of confidence in you at the polls.
Chauna Banks represents District 2 on the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council.