(NaturalNews) A huge, foul-smelling and potentially radioactive sinkhole has gulped an entire acre of cypress trees south of Baton Rouge, forcing the evacuations of about 150 homes and leading affected residents to file a class-action lawsuit against the Texas Brine Co. for its alleged responsibility.
"On Friday, August 3, 2012, a sinkhole, 422 feet deep and 372 feet wide emerged releasing a foul diesel odor and created salt-water slurry, which contains diesel fuel," the suit begins.
Lisa LeBlanc, the lead plaintiff in the case, and others affected by the sinkhole reside in Assumption Parish, which is about 60 miles east of New Orleans. According to the federal complaint, a salt cavern being utilized by Texas Brine to store radioactive materials that are byproducts of the drilling industry failed.
The complaint accuses Texas Brine of being complicit, saying the company knew the cavern walls were at risk of failing as early as January 2011 but did not provide any advance warning to the public.
"The public was not warned in January 2011 or any time thereafter or prior of the potential danger resulting from the failure of this cavern and the general public had no knowledge of the storage of the radioactive material in the cavern," says the complaint.
The suit says the company "used the cavern as a deposit area for naturally occurring radioactive material arising from drilling into two defendant-owned salt caverns."
"In early September 2010, defendant began reworking the cavern well, milling a section of salt higher than the existing cavern roof, at 3,400 feet deep, to see if the upper strata could be mined. This area extends for about 100 feet through the well casing above the cavern roof," it says.
"On January 21, 2011, Mark J. Cartwright, President of Texas Brine Co. Saltville informed the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), via letter, about a failed integrity test of the cavern and suspicion that the cavern may have breached the Napoleonville Dome's outer wall. These problems with the cavern led to the cavern being plugged in June 2011. The area milled in September 2010 may be the source of the salt dome breach," the noted, adding: "LDNR records show that Defendant had been examining the cavern's wall at least since June 2010."
Texas Brine has been providing updates on its website regarding the incident. Earlier this week, the company said in a statement that clean-up efforts at the site were ongoing.
"Clean-up efforts to remove any hydrocarbon material from the surface of the sinkhole continue," said the statement.
Keeping the public informed - of an impending explosion?
The company "is working to remove vegetation and other materials on the surface in order to access the water surface," it said. "Consultants are on site to finalize the installation plan for the instrumentation that will measure any movement of the ground surrounding the sinkhole."
The company said it expected the ground measuring equipment would take "several days" to install.
In addition to the suit, residents in the area have expressed concern to federal officials over the government's order instructing Texas Brine to construct a relief well in the area, even as U.S. Department of Natural Resources and company scientists try to figure out what really caused the sinkhole.
Also, locals have requested to be notified before drilling of the relief well - located in an area of seismic activity - after being warned by officials of an explosion risk posed by gases trapped below the sinkhole.
"[W]e've received some phone calls from residents about being notified prior to the drilling starting," officials said in a written statement on the company's blog designed to keep the public apprised of the situation. "Please know that residents in the immediate area will be notified via phone call, text message, email, blog post, press release and news media in advance of any drilling."
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