The town of Doyline, in northwestern Louisiana, stood in for fictional Bon Temps during True Blood's HBO run. Vampires and other supernatural beasties menaced onscreen, but the real-life town is facing a far greater concern: the to-be-decided fate of 15 million pounds of toxic explosives.
Mother Jones takes an in-depth look at this environmental disaster in progress, which was kicked into motion in 2012 when an explosion at a former military base, "now a hub for munitions contractors, sent a 7,000-foot mushroom cloud into the Louisiana sky."
State police found that a munitions recycling company operating on site was storing millions of pounds of toxic explosives, and storing them unsafely (think paper bags and cardboard boxes). The company, which faces criminal charges and has since gone bankrupt and agreed to move the stash into a more secure location, but the explosives themselves linger.
Here's the scary part, about to get even scarier:
Now the race is against the clock. The bunkers are falling apart — pine trees are growing on the roofs of several of them — which means the increasingly unstable materials are now being exposed to moisture. And the EPA has warned that the explosives, which become more unstable over time, are increasingly at risk of an "uncontrolled catastrophic explosion." So in October, the EPA announced it would do something it had never done before — approved a plan for a large-scale controlled burn of the hazardous military waste.
That came as a shock to local residents, who had not been consulted on the plans and begged Congress to intervene. The result has been an unusual standoff in which conservative lawmakers, led by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), have joined hands with environmentalists to accuse the Army and EPA of jeopardizing the public health and safety of a rural Louisiana parish. On January 15, in response to the backlash, the EPA announced it would put its plans on ice for 90 days and consider alternative options. A decision is due by mid-April.
Locals fear a pre-planned burn as much as they do a sudden inferno; the land around the base is already a health risk due to TNT contamination. Plus:
The explosives the EPA wants to burn include millions of pounds of M6, an explosive propellant that contains large amounts of DNT, which the EPA's own data associates with a higher risk of heart disease and nervous-system damage. And a burn won't get rid of everything. Brian Salvatore, a chemist at Louisiana State University-Shreveport who has become a leading opponent of the burn, argues that a substantial percentage of the M6 will simply be released into the air — and back into Doyline.
The EPA is currently in its review period; it will either decide to burn the waste or come up with another solution, which will require approval from Louisiana and the US Army.
If there's a viable alternative to the open burn, no one's agreed on it yet. A review by the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board concluded that each of the proposed alternatives — such as transportation to a new disposal site or demolition — would be even more time-consuming, too small-scale, or too risky.
Though residents say they'll protest an open burn, the ticking clock is very much a factor; the explosives will "become serious risks for self-combustion" as early as this August.
Photo of Lake Bistineau State Park in Doyline, LA via Louisiana Travel.