Could you imagine being afraid to let your children play outdoors due to the air quality? That's the problem Bayou Casotte residents are facing in Pascagoula, where they've found hazardous dust on their cars, houses, and lawns. Every day, Barbara Weckedser walks outside and finds a grainy dust all over her car.
The dust travels from the ship yards two blocks away to Weckedser's Bayou Casotte neighborhood. Weckedser says, "We have the dust that comes over, but we also have something that has some sort of acid in it that is actually eating the finish off of the car." The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (M.D.E.Q.) has concluded the majority of the dust is "black beauty" and comes from the VT Halter Marine site, while the acid like substance is released by Mississippi Phosphates.
Howard Page of the Steps Coalition says, "With sand blasting, they grind and sand blast before they weld or paint, so the grinding material, which is called black beauty, blows over with the wind and lands in these neighborhoods on the cars, houses, and yards." The scariest part of the problem is the health risks the dust and acid are posing to the nearby residents.
Weckedser has formed a group called Cherokee Concerned Citizens, which issued a health survey to more than 60 residents in the area. Weckedser says, "Sixty percent of the adults have shown some sort of sinus type infections, 13% of the adults have shown having pneumonia, where the national average is 3%." Josephine Washington, a Cherokee Concerned Citizen, says, "I have a problem with my sinuses. I have a sinus infection just about every year. I certainly think that comes from the dust.” The clouds of dust in the air are the same dust is on Weckedser's house and in her neighbor’s lungs.
New 25 spoke with VT Halter Marine's Vice President of Government Relations, Walker Foster, who says they are working with M.D.E.Q. to fix the dust flow problem. Foster assures us they are investing in a multi-million dollar blasting paint building that will keep the dust from leaving the premises.
News 25 tried to reach out to Mississippi Phosphates, whose operations were suspended last November by M.D.E.Q. for emitting sulfuric acid into the air, but was not receive a response.