Lawsuit: Toxic waste leaked onto Gonzales-area residents' property

A Gonzales-area couple alleges in a new lawsuit that toxic wastes migrated onto their property in Ascension Parish from a former landfill next door that is the focus of a cleanup effort years in the making.

Larry and Carolyn Sanchez bought their property in 2009 and allege the contaminants, including toxic toluene tar, are in the soil and groundwater under their home and are affecting their health. The Sanchezes claim they did not find out until March about the alleged contamination on their property.

The Sanchezes’ lawsuit, filed Dec. 26 in 23rd Judicial District Court in Gonzales, names Chemtura Corp. and Chemtura USA Corp., owners of the site, as defendants. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

If true, the Sanchezes’ allegations would mean the toxic contamination has moved farther from the landfill than shown by earlier test results, which formed the basis of the cleanup.

But state Department of Environmental Quality and Chemtura officials stand by extensive testing showing the landfill contaminated wastes have not reached the Sanchezes’ property.

“We are not aware of any lawsuit, but we have been working with the LDEQ under a cooperative process to remediate the site, and as part of that process, we have fully investigated the groundwater in the area and have found no evidence of groundwater contamination,” said John Gustavsen, Chemtura spokesman.

In 2008, a state court judge in Ascension also rejected health claims from other residents living near the landfill who had sued over alleged contamination.

Known as the Spedale Landfill, the site was a highway borrow pit in the mid-1950s and then, from 1957 to 1969, was operated as a residential landfill for Gonzales.

In the mid-1960s, the private landfill operator allowed Uniroyal Chemical Co. to burn toluene tar, an unwanted byproduct made during the manufacturing of synthetic rubber, state regulators say.

Uniroyal records show 1,300 tons of toluene tar waste were shipped to the site between 1964 and 1965, regulators say.

Chemtura took over responsibility for the site in 2005 when Crompton Corp., which had previously bought Uniroyal, and Great Lakes Chemical Corp. merged and formed Chemtura.

Eyed as a possible Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1979 to 1999, the old 7.4-acre landfill on Weber City Road east of Gonzales is undergoing a five-month remediation by Chemtura under DEQ supervision after years of testing, according to DEQ records.

A large, warehouse-like containment structure is on part of the site, and the former landfill along New River had evidence of dirt moving and freshly cut tree stumps last week.

Under the containment structure, which is meant to limit noise and harmful and smelly vapors, contractors are digging up contaminated earth and loading it into trucks to be hauled away, Chemtura’s remediation plans say.

The contractor is removing earth from as deep as 15 feet in the 1.6 acres within the landfill that regulators have deemed to be contaminated.

The tar wastes contain toluene, n-nitrosodiphenylamine and diphenylamine. All are in concentrations in the landfill soil and shallow groundwater that are above safe levels for residential properties, according to DEQ and Chemtura.

Heavy metals, including lead, and other contaminants have also been found on the site at elevated levels.

Toluene can affect the central nervous system and cause tiredness, weakness and confusion. Exposure can stem from drinking contaminated well water and living near uncontrolled waste sites with toluene.

N-nitrosodiphenylamine was once widely used in the production of rubber tires. Animal studies provide limited evidence that it is carcinogenic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a recent interview, Carolyn Sanchez said her well water has a foul smell. She said the contamination affected her central nervous system but declined further comment on the advice of her attorney.

Attorney Donald Carmouche did not return a message for comment last week.

In the suit, Carolyn Sanchez claims to have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue in addition to a central nervous system disorder.

Her husband, Larry Sanchez, claims to have kidney cysts, a bleeding ulcer, cell damage to his colon, chronic fatigue and leg rashes.

Beginning sometime in the 1970s or early 1980s, the old landfill became the Confederate Acres subdivision, where homes, a car wash and a day care center were built.

Crompton bought out residents and businesses directly on the site in the mid-2000s to settle contamination suits filed several years earlier.

Edwin Akujobi, environmental scientist supervisor for DEQ’s Underground Storage Tank and Remediation Division, said the wastes are contained within the old landfill site.

He said extensive sampling of soil and groundwater on the site show contaminant concentrations drop to safe levels before the Sanchezes’ property is reached.

Though he acknowledged DEQ never tested the Sanchezes’ soil or groundwater, separate tests were conducted by Chemtura in late 2012 and early 2013 on their property, and the results show the groundwater and soil do not contain toluene and other primary contaminants from the landfill, according to Chemtura.

One spot on the Sanchezes’ property, near a burned tree stump, had compounds commonly associated with burned materials.