Class Claims Giant Sinkhole Is Growing

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – An enormous, radioactive, foul-smelling sinkhole swallowed an acre of cypress trees and forced people to evacuate their homes, Louisianans say in a federal class action against Texas Brine Co. and Occidental Chemical Corp.
     This is not the first class action involving the giant sinkhole, which the class claims was caused by gas and oil drillers dumping radioactive materials into salt caverns. They claim the sinkhole is still growing.
     The first lawsuit was filed a year ago. It listed only Texas Brine Co. as a defendant.
     Lead plaintiff Dianne Sanchez says in the new complaint: “On Friday, August 3, 2012, a sinkhole, 422 feet deep and 372 feet wide emerged in the wooded swampland area of Bayou Corne, releasing a foul diesel odor, collapsing trees and created salt-water slurry, which contained diesel fuel. This incident, event or occurrence happened entirely within the State of Louisiana and resulted in injuries entirely in the State of Louisiana.”
     “On or about August 3, 2012, a mandatory evacuation was declared by Assumption Parish for all residents of Bayou Corne resulting from this incident. The mandatory evacuation has been in effect through the date of this filing.
     “Upon information and belief, the sinkhole, which continues to expand, and the resulting contamination is the result of the failure of salt caverns, owned and/ or operated by the defendants.”
     The class claims the defendants “had used the cavern as a deposit area for naturally occurring radioactive material arising from drilling into two defendant-owned salt caverns, including the one breached in the Bayou Corne area. …
     “In early September 2010, defendants 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.
     “On information and belief, the public was not warned in January 2011, or at any time thereafter or at any time prior to the appearance of the sinkhole, 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.”
     Naturally occurring radioactive material is a designation given to materials, usually industrial wastes or byproducts enriched with radioactive elements, that are naturally found in the environment in trace amounts – in soil and rocks, for instance – and which are brought to the surface through human activities such as oil and gas production. Through the human activities the material, most of whose radioactivity comes from radium, becomes concentrated and therefore toxic. Radium, like virtually all radioactive materials, can be carcinogenic.
     The plaintiffs seek civil penalties and damages for negligence, nuisance and trespass, economic damages, attorneys’ fees and medical monitoring.
     They are represented by Lawrence J. Centola III with Fayard & Honeycutt of Denham Springs, La.

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