- "Based on over 40 samples I saw taken at the plant, contaminated areas were clearly subject to flooding and added to the contamination coming out of DeLisle. "
- FEMA surge inundation maps revealed a 25.1-foot outdoor high-water mark recorded within the plant, beyond several retention ponds known by a former DuPont employee to hold high levels of dioxin, a chemical by-product that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states is "one of the most toxic and environmentally stable" compounds in its class.
- "When the surge carries mud in, it carries it out, too," said Al Hopkins, a former Army general and one of the lawyers bringing suit against DuPont DeLisle. "The water came over those piles of ore and dust. TCDD (dioxin) was in those piles."
"Based on over 40 samples I saw taken at the plant, contaminated areas were clearly subject to flooding and added to the contamination coming out of DeLisle. " Some DuPont sampling results expected Monday
As Katrina's surge slammed the Coast, three ore and tank freight train cars sitting atop a 25-foot-high railroad berm careened a fifth of a mile inland. Speeding water laid Bay of St. Louis mud down in a thick coat on Diamondhead, Pass Christian and the DuPont plant at DeLisle.
As the surge receded, so did the water from the DuPont plant, located near the very edge of where land meets water.
Recently released FEMA surge inundation maps revealed a 25.1-foot outdoor high-water mark recorded within the plant, beyond several retention ponds known by a former DuPont employee to hold high levels of dioxin, a chemical by-product that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states is "one of the most toxic and environmentally stable" compounds in its class.
But dioxin is not the only concern. The DeLisle plant was the largest producer of toxic chemicals in the state and the 34th largest in the nation, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory figures for 2003, the last year publicly available.
On Monday, an environmental chemist will release findings from an independent assessment of toxins around the DeLisle community.
The TRI program reported that DuPont's DeLisle plant pumped 12.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the ground through injection wells, almost 2.1 million pounds into the air and almost 300 pounds into the water in 2003. DuPont also put several hundred thousand pounds of heavy metals - including zinc, vanadium, and lead- into its landfills and into surrounding waters and pumped over half a million pounds of hydrochloric acid into the air.
"Based on over 40 samples I saw taken at the plant, contaminated areas were clearly subject to flooding and added to the contamination coming out of DeLisle," said Glenn Evers, a 22-year employee of DuPont who worked at its sister titanium dioxide plant in Delaware and who testified this summer in the first of 2,000 lawsuits brought against DuPont.
A jury awarded $14 million to a Bay St. Louis oyster fisherman for a rare cancer that his lawyers argued was a result of dioxin coming out of the DeLisle plant. "Any mud that went through that facility and came back out was contaminated," he asserted.
In 2000, 1,270 people lived within a three-mile radius of the plant, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Just over a quarter of those people live below the poverty level. Over half are white, about a third are black and 15 percent are American Indian.
Over 50 percent of the population are children under the age of 18 and senior citizens, the two age groups most likely to suffer from pollution.
U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aerial photos reveal the wind-damaged and mud-covered plant, where raw ore, brought in by freight car from the port at Gulfport, is transformed into super-white titanium dioxide, a pigment used to whiten everything from paint to Oreo cookie filling.
The freight cars themselves tell a story of what happened that day, with entire lines of ore, coke and chlorine carriers knocked over by the velocity of the surge. The cars that were hurled into the facility were deposited into a watery part east of vital equipment and buildings.
Did any of the mud, possibly contaminated by plant chemicals and by-products, wash out of the facility? If so, where did it go?
"Our environmental containment and severe weather systems withstood the impact of Hurricane Katrina," wrote Nathan Pepper, a DuPont spokesman, in an e-mail response to questions about surge inundation. "As a result there was no release with any on-site or off-site impact. This has been confirmed by MDEQ and EPA inspections, and most recently by EPA and MDEQ's 10/28/05 Mississippi Bay and Estuary report. These agencies also have an on-site sampling report that is due to be completed soon. DuPont is confident that it too will reflect our determination of no environmental impact from Hurricane Katrina."
That response has been backed up by Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality, the government agency responsible for oversight and regulation of the DuPont plant.
"Debris went to the levels of the levees," said Rick Sumrall, who is in charge of compliance within the chemical manufacturing industry. "It was clear that impoundments had not been topped."
Sumrall also said that the landfill area, in the northwest corner of the plant and where some waste is stored, stayed above surge waters.
But Sumrall did not mention any of the open areas where dioxin-laced intermediary chemicals and products dusted the ground and buildings.
James Durant, an environmental health scientist with the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said that the government has taken samples around the DuPont plant and that they are finishing a report on the findings.
Even if the mud was contaminated, "getting it on the skin does not necessarily mean it is going to get in the body," Durant said. "My concern would be dioxin getting into the food chain."
Wilma Subra, an environmental consultant and chemist in Louisiana, took several soil and sediment samples in Mississippi and Louisiana, including several around DuPont. She will release her findings Monday.
Those samples will either vindicate the company and prove that they were able to maintain control of their plant through Katrina, or show that the community of DeLisle, and through the movement of coastal waters the rest of South Mississippi, has something more to worry about.
"When the surge carries mud in, it carries it out, too," said Al Hopkins, a former Army general and one of the lawyers bringing suit against DuPont DeLisle. "The water came over those piles of ore and dust. TCDD (dioxin) was in those piles."