SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - A rally was held to Saturday protest the landfill in Shreveport's Martin Luther King neighborhood. A perpetual fire burning at the site located off Russell Rd. just off I-220 has been sending up plumes of thick, black smoke into the air for years, and the partially underground blaze has recently flared up again.
The Nation of Islam and the MLK Coalition Against Environmental Racism held the rally that attracted dozens who showed up on the side of the road near the Harrelson Materials Management site late Saturday morning with signs and wearing medical masks in a reference to what they say the landfill is putting out into to the air. The signs said 'No more landfill' and 'Kill the landfill.'
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality notified the operators of the landfill last week to shut down, and ordered them to stop receiving and disposing of new material. Harrelson will have 6 to 8 months to put out the fire and then close up shop. The company's permit expired in October and will not be renewed, but the groups rallying on Saturday said they want see the landfill not only shut down, but dug up and completely moved.
"This is home, this is home to me and it just breaks my heart, I can't help but start crying when I start talking about it," says one of the protesters, who lives in the neighborhood. "It's something we have to do because we want to save our community, because this is ridiculous, we have people that are dying and they don't even know why," says Shirley Slaughter, who also lives near the landfill.Many of those attending the rally complain about the smell in the air, and of health problems. While the smoke is not always visible, a burning smell lingers in the air. "A landfill like this, you have houses right over there probably 20 feet from me, should never be," says MLK resident Frederick Ellis Sr.
"We're not going away quietly and this is an issue that he needs to face head on." says Marvin Muhammad, with the Nation of Islam. "What we are saying is that Harrelson has effectively contaminated the environment."
Muhammad calls it "environmental racism," saying if the landfill was in any other part of town, it would have been shut down a long time ago. "If it was off Broadmoor, if it was in Springlake, we believe that after 30 years, even after 10 years, after 5 years, after even 1 year, we believe that the city of Shreveport, we believe that the state of Louisiana, particularly DEQ, the state fire marshal, would have made this situation totally different."
The agency sampled air at the site on June 20 and the U.S. EPA did so starting on June 21. The results have not yet been received and they say analysis is ongoing. Those results will be made available to the public.
DEQ said it will continue its perimeter, site and community monitoring at the site until the situation is remedied.
Meanwhile, Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover is questioning the plan submitted by Harrelson for putting out the fire, expressing concerns that the environmental consulting and engineering firm does not have the level of experience and expertise needed to deal with landfill fires. In a letter to State Fire Marshal Butch Browning on Friday, Glover acknowledges that the Shreveport Fire Department "is not nor have they ever presented themselves as experts in the area of fighting a deep-seated subsurface fire," and suggests that Harrelson should be required to work with experts in this area in developing their plan.
Glover also notes that the plan leaves open the possibility that the facility will continue to receive construction and demolition debris waste, which he says will increase the likelihood of fires during the process and delay the process of putting them out.
In addition to requiring Harrelson to prove that they adopt a plan that reflects the best practices of the industry and prove that they have the financial capacity to execute it, Glover is urging Browning to ensure the landfill operator use proper equipment, that the work be monitored by the DEQ and a city representative, and that they take steps to ensure water quality is protected in the process.