Rejecting a plan announced last year by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Louisiana has refused to allow the dumping of radioactive gypsum into the Mississippi River. Martha Madden, secretary-director of Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced last week that she would not permit four fertilizer plants to dump the waste gypsum into the river, despite the EPA's approval, because of the ``danger to human health and the environment.'' Her announcement came after the final meeting of a special task force that has been trying to arrive at a compromise solution for the waste since September.
The environmentalists and fertilizer company representatives who made up the task force were deadlocked in disagreement on the probable effects of the gypsum dumping. The environmentalists, along with the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, said that the gypsum, containing radioactive uranium and radium, was potentially dangerous to some water supplies in the area.
Chemical company representatives said their failure to win a dumping permit could endanger more than 7,100 area jobs. Jim Bob Moffett, chairman of Freeport-McMoRan Inc. in New Orleans, one of the four companies included in the dumping plan, said that there is no more land left on company property in which to bury the waste and that it would be too expensive to haul it away.
Mr. Moffett waged an extensive public relations campaign in which he contended that low levels of the gypsum ``posed no immediate threat'' to area water drinkers.
Environmentalists here say they feel the companies may eventually win in court because the DEQ secretary may have circumvented proper channels in denying the dumping permits.
``I'm pleased by the decision,'' said Harold Gorman, director of the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board. ``But I'm concerned whether all the procedural matters have been taken care of.''
A lobbyist for one of the chemical companies said the matter will now move into the courts.