Jefferson Parish air pollution must be fixed

Michael Chen, Contributing Reporter

Hanson Dai | Associate Artist

From constant nausea to bronchitis and other respiratory irritations, citizens of Jefferson Parish, specifically in the River Ridge area, have been rightfully worried about their recent health problems, which they claim to have started in August. The source of their concern is the Jefferson Parish landfill, which accepts municipal garbage and trash from residences and small businesses in Jefferson Parish.

Residents like Rene’ Marse have expressed concern, stating that, “in addition to what we smell and feel like, sometimes there’s a weight on your chest,” and many have brought this problem to the awareness of the Jefferson Parish Council.

Further concerns about possible higher levels of hydrogen sulfide gas leaking from the landfill have also been raised by retired Jefferson Parish Deputy Nancy Pearson. Although hydrogen sulfide in low levels is not known to have permanent health effects, Dr. Daniel Harrington, an assistant professor in environmental science from the LSU School of Public Health, claims that the psychological effects of the pollution are more likely to affect people’s health in the long run.

As a result, 85 plaintiffs from both sides of the Mississippi River filed a lawsuit on Dec. 13 of last year, the fifth one of its kind, to seek damages for health problems caused in the past five months. In early January 2018, then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attempted to pause proposals enacted by the Obama administration that would have enforced stricter rules on the methane gas released by new and existing landfills.

Disregarding its ignorance in upholding previously enacted legislation in favor of industry practitioners such as Waste Management and Republic Services, the nation’s largest waste management company, this stay, enforced by the Trump administration which has faced other lawsuits in the past concerning the postponement of EPA regulations is a show of blatant disregard for environmental concerns on behalf of the current administration.

In this debate, the primary concern for Jefferson Parish council members should be the constituents that they represent. Recent revelations have shown that IESI Corp., the private contractor which handles most of the operations in the landfill, was in breach of contract and was thus ordered to stop collecting liquid waste. Policymakers should establish a series of tests that would provide a definite answer to the question of where the odor is being produced and if it is still a problem to the community.

The pollution and stench caused by the landfill in Jefferson Parish has, however, brought about some positive change in the area. Increased awareness about solving the problem at hand has led Parish Councilman Chris Roberts to mention exploring whether to install permanent air quality monitors on both sides of the Mississippi River last August. Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni’s immediate efforts in July to halt collection of residential sewage and commercial waste from outside of the parish should also be applauded, but there is always more that can be done.

Just last month, a new pipe system at the landfill was built and turned on, an effort to reduce gas odors from emanating from the area, thus reducing any future complaints. While some do claim that the odors are not produced by problems associated with the landfill in Jefferson Parish, it must be hoped that these revised methods will suppress the repeated odors and the many medical irritations that follow.