Giant Sinkhole May Be Radioactive


     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - An enormous, foul-smelling, possibly radioactive sinkhole swallowed an acre of cypress trees and forced 150 home evacuations, Louisianans say in a class action against the Texas Brine Co.
     "On Friday, August 3, 2012, a sinkhole, 422 feet deep and 372 feet wide emerged releasing a foul diesel odor and created salt-water slurry, which contains diesel fuel," the federal class action begins.
     Lead plaintiff Lisa LeBlanc and the class live in Assumption Parish, about 50 miles south of Baton Rouge. According to the federal complaint, a salt cavern failed, which Texas Brine Co. was using to store radioactive material, a byproduct of the drilling industry.
     The class claims that Texas Brine knew the cavern walls were liable to breach as early as January 2011, but failed to warn the public.
     "The public was not warned in January 2011 or any time thereafter or prior of the potential danger resulting from the failure of this cavern and the general public had no knowledge of the storage of the radioactive material in the cavern," the complaint states.
     The class claims Texas Brine "used the cavern as a deposit area for naturally occurring radioactive material arising from drilling into two defendant-owned salt caverns ... "
     "In early September 2010, defendant began reworking the cavern well, milling a section of salt higher than the existing cavern roof, at 3,400 feet deep, to see if the upper strata could be mined. This area extends for about 100 feet through the well casing above the cavern roof.
     "On January 21, 2011, Mark J. Cartwright, President of Texas Brine Co. Saltville informed the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), via letter, about a failed integrity test of the cavern and suspicion that the cavern may have breached the Napoleonville Dome's outer wall. These problems with the cavern led to the cavern being plugged in June 2011. The area milled in September 2010 may be the source of the salt dome breach.
     "LDNR records show that Defendant had been examining the cavern's wall at
     least since June 2010."
     The class claims Assumption Parish officials ordered the area evacuated on Friday, Aug. 3, the day the sinkhole opened.
     On Saturday, Aug. 11, Texas Brine agreed to make a "significant contribution" to a fund set up to help residents evacuate, according to The Associated Press.
     A U.S. Department of Energy documenton storage of naturally occurring radioactive material in salt caverns states that oil field wastes - but not other industrial wastes - are exempted from the hazardous waste requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
     According to that document, "Disposal of NORM [naturally occurring radioactive material]-Contaminated Oil Field Wastes in Salt Caverns": "On July 6, 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a regulatory determination that exempted any wastes arising from the exploration, development, and production of crude oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy from regulation as hazardous wastes under RCRA Subtitle C (53 FR 25477). ... Given the federal exemption from RCRA for oil field wastes, the waste management requirements faced by most operators will be state requirements."
     The document, which was released in 1998, states that Louisiana law prohibited storage of naturally occurring radioactive waste in salt caverns, and that the law would have to be amended before storage would be possible.
     The class seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages, medical monitoring and costs. Their lead counsel is Daniel Becnel Jr., of Reserve, La.