History of the Agriculture Street Landfill
The Agriculture Street Landfill neighborhood is a low to middle-income community of about 900 residents. The community was 100% African-American and has an average annual family income of $25,000. It was built on the dreams of several hundred working African-American men and women. For many, it represented their first and possibly only chance to qualify for ownership of their own home. It grew to be a well-kept and very close-knit community. Dreams were shattered by many in government and then continued with Hurricane Katrina.
The site of the cities Landfill for more then 50 years was located in the Upper Ninth Ward of the City of New Orleans. The site is 95 acres and located 8 minutes from downtown. This was the dumping facility for all debris throughout the area. The landfill closed in 1965 and construction of Press Park homes begun in 1971 and the construction of Gordon Plaza Single Family homes were completed in 1981. The Government convinced young home owners that this was a part of a grand future for people of color. We did not know our homes were on top of the City Dump Site.
Health Problems began to occur almost immediately. Residents experienced various illnesses as a result of the toxic landfill, including elevated rates of breast cancer, skin problems, respiratory problems and other unknown cancers.
Test confirmed what the residents already knew: Toxins levels were high enough to qualify for Superfund status and the area was added to the EPA’S Superfund list in 1994.
The EPA “Cleanup”
“With each passing year, there was more and more evidence that Agriculture Street Landfill contained hazardous materials and was not properly closed.
As a community environmental activist my work was to get the community relocated. My travels have taken me around the world where I spoke at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa. While there I had the opportunity to visit communities who were in very similar situations as Ag. Street with families living on or near dump sites.
The Environmental Protection Agency declared Ag. Street a Superfund Site, and recommended soil remediation.
EPA decided to leave the community of low-income residents living on top of a landfill, separated from toxic waste only by a permeable plastic liner that contained major gaps and an inconsistent layer of soil ranging from zero to two feet. The inadequate remedy was unprecedented.
EPA’s “cleanup” consisted of inconsistent applications of a liner and less than two feet of soil to residential areas. Some areas contain no liner and no soil cover. This “cleanup” was inadequate to protect public and the environment.
Even after EPA completed its cleanup plan, residents remain living on top of the contaminated landfill. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine that many of the community members would not be able to successfully market or sell there property.
EPA’s proposal to take no further action after the cleanup at the Agriculture Street Landfill site was arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the Law.
“Agriculture Street Landfill Class Action Lawsuit”
New Orleans, LA---January 24, 2006 Judge Nadine Ramsey presented the facts of the case.
As a direct result of the negligence of the City, HANO and the OPSB, Judge Ramsey found that the Class Members have suffered compensable damages and losses in the form of loss of property value, diminution of property value for owners of adjacent property, and “extraordinary” mental and emotional distress.
Post Hurricane Katrina Concerns
For several weeks post Hurricane Katrina, the Agriculture Street Landfill community remained flooded. There is no way to know whether hazardous materials from the Ag. Street site are leaking into the environment, or whether returning residents trying to rummage through the ruins of their homes in search of personal treasures are exposing themselves to toxic or hazardous materials. The attorneys for the Ag. Street community maintains that Hurricane Katrina does not diminish their clients suffering and damages at the hands of the defendants. The Ag. Street community should not have been living on top of a landfill in the first place. The defendants are not entitled to benefit from a natural disaster to evade liability to the Ag. Street residents for decades of negligence that caused them harm.
The Work Continues
The Ag. Street case continues with the defendants making an appeal to the Judgment. The appellate process could take up to 3 years.
Most of the landfill residents were relocated by virtue of mandatory evacuations before and after Hurricane Katrina. The properties were completely destroyed and most areas look like a Third World Country. More then 30 residents have returned to Ag. Street and rebuild their homes on the dump site.
- A database has been set up of personal information of those residence that lived on the Ag. Street site
- Phone calls and letter writing is ongoing to support the residence
- A web site has been set up by the Bagneris Law Firm for information sharing
- High speed internet service is needed to stay connected to those residence who are not in Louisiana
- Attention should be given to those residents who may have long term health concerns from living on the toxic dump site
I and the other class representatives would like Agriculture Street Landfill to be a lesson our government leaders “remember” who are working on the reconstruction of homes after Hurricane Katrina. Our community leaders, built homes on top of a landfill that contained debris from Hurricane Betsy because no one paid attention to the toxic effects of this debris. Attention must be paid to cleaning up our environment as we rebuild our city. Communities should never live near Toxic Landfills, and should never live on top of Landfills like the people of Ag Street have lived.
Elodia Blanco, President
Concerned Citizens of Agriculture Street Landfill
48362 Stafford Road
Tickfaw, Louisiana 70466