Persistent red dust problem prompts DEQ to visit Sorrento alumina facility

Dust flying over neighborhood
Dust flying over neighborhood(Viewer)
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 3:08 PM CDT
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SORRENTO, La. (WAFB) - Residents in parts of Ascension Parish have become all too familiar with the red dust that grazes the skies. The dust problem’s persistence has led the head of the state’s environmental efforts to personally visit the facility where officials believe the problem is stemming from to get a first-hand understanding of the issue to try to find a solution.

According to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the red dust is a longstanding issue coming from a facility owned by LAlumina LLC in Sorrento. Secretary Roger Gingles and a few members of his staff visited the facility on Tuesday, Sept. 19, for a visual assessment.

DEQ responders have reportedly investigated red dust complaints numerous times. With unprecedented dry and hot weather in Louisiana lately, officials say the department is receiving dust complaints from Sorrento almost daily.

A spokesperson with LDEQ says the department is working with both permit and enforcement divisions to address pending enforcement action against the facility because of the dust.

Red dust was seen blowing over a neighborhood.

According to DEQ, “As part of the Alumina (raw aluminum) manufacturing process, tailings called red mud are created in large volumes. This red mud is a waste that is stored in the ponds at the facility. If it dries out, it can become airborne and carried by wind as red dust. The facility is not producing alumina and is shut down with only skeleton crew onsite, but the red mud ponds remain. As they dry, dust rises.”

Officials said LAlumina added sprinkler heads to their watering system in response to the dust complaints, but they are not functioning at an efficient level.

“The system is designed to reduce or eliminate dust emissions by keeping the red mud in the ponds wet. There were issues with the sprinklers from the beginning. First, supply chain issues delayed the delivery of the new sprinkler heads. Then the pumps providing water to the sprinklers failed. Repairs have been made, but the dust issues persist and recur with dry weather,” officials explained.

The spokesperson says LDEQ is continuing to work to reduce dust emissions in the short term and is seeking to find a solution that will be both feasible and permanent.

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