Hurricanes Leave Massive Material Handling Challenge in Louisiana

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, along with other storms of 2005, will long be remembered. Now that clean-up efforts are in full swing, this report from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) gives some indication of the massive material handling efforts that will be required to get the area back to business-as-usual. One bright spot in this report is that much of the material collected will be recycled.

In Louisiana, there is an estimated 22 million tons of debris. The job of separating and sorting has begun with the intention of recycling as much of the material as possible.

The challenge, according to engineers on the scene, is to not overwhelm existing landfills. Even with emergency regulations in place that will relax some of the environmental restrictions, obtaining permits to create new landfills would take too long.

The clean-up process is expected to take at least a year. Along with an estimated half-million vehicles, state officials are dealing with possibly millions of refrigerators and other appliances - and the hazardous material they contain like refrigerants, which they hope to recover.

Other hazardous material officials are dealing with include oil, fuel, lead acid batteries, brake and transmission fluid, mercury switches, antifreeze and tires from the vehicles. Much of this can reused, reprocessed or recycled. While most of the wood recovered cannot be reused, metal such as steel can be recycled.

"What we are trying to do is dispose of the overwhelming amount of debris in an environmentally sound and efficient manner," said DEQ Assistant Secretary of Environmental Services Chuck Brown.

For example, white goods such as air conditioners and refrigerators must have the Freon, fluids and contents removed before they can be recycled. Municipal waste, such as food and curbside trash, goes to a certain landfill, construction and demolition debris goes to another type of landfill and hazardous material goes to yet another type of landfill.

Much of the wood waste from trees will be burned using air curtain destructors. These devices have been successful in other instances where a large amount of debris had to be disposed of. Because it burns at high temperatures, using sophisticated technology, the amount of smoke is reduced and the burn is more complete - leaving little ash.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier this week that it and its partners have collected more than one million pounds of household hazardous waste. These materials have to be disposed of in a proper manner and can not be put into a municipal landfill.

The LDEQ has approved open burning on a case by case basis for vegetative debris such as yard waste, trees, limbs, branches and untreated or unpainted wood. Vegetative debris is also being placed into compost and mulch piles.

Information for the report provided by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. For more information about Louisiana's debris management plan visit its Web site: www.deq.state.la.us.

Source: Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality

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