New Orleans Residents Get a Win

Samantha Epner, Staff Writer

Two communities and elementary schools in New Orleans have been built on a known toxic landfill. After over two decades of fighting for compensation, the community residents finally got it.

 In the 1970s, New Orleans built 67 ranch-style houses on a known former landfill. After the houses at Gordon plaza were built, city officials encouraged first-time landowners, specifically people part of the African American communities, to move to the homes without telling them about the landfill. The government then let many other homes and establishments be built throughout the community and atop the landfill. In 1993 it was confirmed that the communities of Press Park and Gordon Plaza and the Moton Elementary School were built on top of a known toxic dumpsite. Then In 1994, the contaminated areas were deemed a superfund site. Superfund is a law that was established in 1980. The law allows the EPA (environmental protection agency) to clean up the contaminated site. Between 1986 and 1994, the EPA consistently reassured citizens that it was safe and allowed establishments to be built on the landfill. A study of the soil was conducted by— and it was found that there are 149  amounts of toxins, 49 of which are known to cause cancer, one of which is breast cancer, and after looking at the numbers, women in the area were 57% more likely to develop breast cancer above. In addition, Gordon plaza has the second-highest cancer rate in Louisiana. Experts can’t link cancer directly to the toxins from the ground, therefore they couldn’t be sure of the risks of the soil, but it left residents of the communities scared and unsettled.

 In 1993 the first lawsuit was brought forward by residents of the communities against t the city. The court ruled in favor of the citizens and awarded them 90 million dollars, but only a few core plaintiffs received some money. Residents repeatedly asked to be relocated but were denied, and even from the money won in the case, many residents have not seen the money because no laws are making the city pay the amount owed. Then again, in 2006, the courts ruled that the city must pay 14.3 million, a fraction of what they were supposed to pay in 1993. 

The cases brought to court were compensation for the property values, medical bills, and mental stress. After it was deemed a superfund site, community members were told to put fresh soil over the contaminated soil and leave space and test it regularly, which will not undo any long-term health problems the toxins may have already given. It will certainly not make the property value rise. It was first in 1977 when the EPA showed up in the communities to clean up, but instead of cleaning up, they dug up two feet of soil and placed down a thin fabric commonly used to line garden beds and then placed two feet of fresh earth. The mat was never to stop contaminants from reaching the surface. They were there to tell someone when to stop digging, and it didn’t stop contaminants from rising to the surface. After the EPA’s efforts, they told residents that it was safe, which later became a lie. in the community are now stranded in their homes on top of the landfill. With little to no compensation money and the value of the properties being close to nothing, they can not afford to move, and the city refuses to relocate them. Many residents of the communities are African American or part of a minority and are living in fear and getting sick. Many citizens clean their houses daily and try to steer clear of their front lawns, and o does not allow their kids to play at parks or in front of their homes because they do not want to take the risk of their kids getting sick. 

On March 14th, 2022, the residents were awarded 75.3 million dollars, but no one has seen a dime. Though the money has not been seen yet, the victory in the case has EPA considering retesting the soil, possibly leading to an entire relocation for the residents left in Gordon plaza.