(RxWiki News) You remember hearing about the Florida man who died after the earth gave way beneath his bed as he slept? While its impact was tragic, that sinkhole was tiny compared to the monster in Bayou Corne, Louisiana.
Situated about 70 miles west of New Orleans and 50 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, Bayou Corne is home to an abandoned salt mine that’s been crumbling for months now.
On August 3, 2012, the earth opened up and swallowed hundred-year old cypress trees, leaving a hole that measured 200 by 200 feet – just shy of an acre.
Today, the monster has gobbled up some 13 acres, with no signs of letting up.
"If you suspect a gas leak, call your utility company."
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been numerous mini-earthquakes beneath the sinkhole. This seismic activity is causing what officials call “burps” in the slimy slurry that now fills the hole.
And the hole is getting bigger by the day.
What’s alarming is that such an event has never happened anywhere in the world that anyone knows about. What’s even more startling is that no person, no government agency nor any company has any idea how to handle this environmental disaster.
The sinkhole began when a salt mine, owned by Texas Brine Co., LLC, out of Houston, started cracking and collapsing. Residents in the area said they had been smelling a diesel odor and feeling the ground tremble for a couple of months before the earth dropped away and the hole emerged.
"The sinkhole is the result of the failure of the cavern and material on the outside of the salt dome migrating into the cavern," chemist Wilma Subra, a technical advisor to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), explained to local radio WWL reporter. "The sinkhole contains crude oil and natural gas from the outside formation of the salt dome and they are migrating to the surface."
Shortly after the failure, air samples were taken and a number of toxic chemicals were found such as benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, carbon tetrachloride and a number of other chemicals, according to LEAN.
The health consequences of this sinkhole aren’t fully known. "Health impacts associated with the chemicals detected in the air in the residential area consist of known and possible cancer causing agents; respiratory irritants; skin, eye, nose, throat, and lung irritants and can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, muscle aches and pains, joint pain, abdominal pain and stress," LEAN reported.
Residents from 350 homes in the area were quickly ordered to evacuate because their houses were so close to the gaping hole.
Texas Brine has been giving these folks $875 a week housing allowance. The company is also digging wells to ease the pressure of the natural gas that’s building up. The wells vent the gas, which is then burned off.
There is some fear that a second mine may already be or may become involved. And no one knows what that will mean, either.
Last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal visited the area for the first time since the start of this ecological nightmare. He said that the company would pay not just the residents for the mess it has created; Texas Brine also owes the state of Louisiana some $8 million it has shelled out to try and contain this thing.
On Friday, March 22, work in the area had to be stopped again because of more seismic activity. Crews are trying to take 3D seismic measurements to determine exactly what’s happening.
That same day, Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources announced the formation of a blue-ribbon commission made up of 13 scientists and other experts. The commission is tasked with determining when it may be safe for displaced residents to return to their homes.
dailyRx News will keep track of this story and report on progress as is warranted.