The Louisiana parish of Plaquemines is taking on a group of oil and gas giants including BP and Chevron for allegedly dumping toxic waste — some of it radioactive — from their drilling operations into its coastal waters, according to a lawsuit removed to federal court on Thursday.
Plaquemines Parish is claiming the companies violated the Louisiana State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978 by discharging oil field waste directly into the water “without limitation.” Worse, the companies allegedly failed to clear, revegetate, detoxify or restore any of the areas they polluted, as required by state law. The oil and gas companies’ pollution, along with their alleged failure to adequately maintain their oilfields, has caused significant coastal erosion and contaminated groundwater, the lawsuit said.
“I think the oil companies have an obligation to self-report, I think the oil companies are to blame and I think the oil companies took advantage of the state,” John Carmouche, on of the lead attorneys for the parish, said in November when the suit originally came out in state court. The lawsuit is just one of nearly 30 that were filed in November by both Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes, targeting dozens of energy companies and their contractors they claim helped destroy and pollute coastal areas.
Plaquemines’ suit says BP and Chevron should have known that the oilfield wastes, referred to as “brine,” contained “unacceptable and inherently dangerous” levels of radioactive materials called Radium 226 and Radium 228. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, small amounts of Radium 226 were once used as an additive in toothpaste, hair creams, and even food items due to supposed beneficial health properties. Those products soon “fell out of vogue,” however, after it was discovered that the health effects were exactly the opposite of beneficial.
Long-term exposure to radium also increases the risk of developing several diseases, including lymphoma, bone cancer, leukemia and aplastic anemia, according to the EPA.
Radium emits both alpha and gamma radiation, the former of which is detrimental if taken into the body through inhalation or ingestion — a real concern considering the alleged water contamination. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 80 percent of the radium that is swallowed will promptly leave the body through feces, while the other 20 percent enters the bloodstream and accumulates preferentially in the bones. Some of that radium will remain in the bones throughout the person’s lifetime, the EPA said.
Another aspect of the lawsuit against BP and Chevron targets their construction of “unlined earthen waste pits,” which the lawsuit describes as “simply holes, ponds or excavations” that are dug into either the ground or a marsh. Many of those pits were never properly closed, the suit says, adding that BP and Chevron did not even attempt to obtain permits to close them. The lawsuit also alleges that BP has been illegally dredging canals throughout the region for their oil and gas activities, without the necessary permits.
“These suits are more of the same,” Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs said in an email to The Advocate in November. “Extort as much money from the oil and gas industry as possible, thus lining the pockets of a small group of trial lawyers.”