Colfax 'The Rock'

Parish: Grant Parish

Colfax is located in Grant Parish with a population of 1,428, 58% of which are African-American (US Census 2020).

Colfax is home to Clean Harbors, a facility that contracts with the Defense Department. Clean Harbors is the only commercial facility in the United States that was permitted to open-burn explosives and other hazardous waste. In 2015, 700,000 pounds of military munitions and explosives were shipped to Colfax, contradicting the military’s claim that these byproducts are too unstable to move. Rocket fuel, hand grenades, solid propellant, and warhead rockets are just a few of the products being incinerated at the plant (ProPublica 2017).

In 2016, air monitoring found evidence of acrolein and benzene, both are chemicals that are associated with respiratory issues, heart attacks, and cancer. Groundwater and soil samples reported a variety of toxic substances associated with burning munitions. State health officials reported that the sampling results “did not indicate a likelihood of adverse health effects”. Residents disagree as many experience thyroid issues, strokes, and infections as well as other illnesses that have been linked to the byproducts of explosives and military waste (ProPublica 2017).

In 2022, Clean Harbors’ permit came up for renewal and Colfax residents fought to get it denied. At a public hearing, community members voiced health issues, such as cancers and respiratory ailments, linked to Clean Harbors’ activities. Residents also voiced concerns about loopholes in the permit that would allow open-burning to continue in certain scenarios (Louisiana Illuminator 2022).

In 2023, after reviewing complaints, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued a new permit to Clean Harbors that bans the facility from continuing to open-burn or detonate explosives and military munitions. DEQ announced in order for Clean Harbors to continue operating, they can only operate using a “closed burn chamber system” (The Advocate 2023).

In the permit renewal, DEQ labeled the closed burn chamber as a “miscellaneous unit”, rather than a hazardous waste incinerator. The Central Louisiana Coalition for a Clean and Healthy Environment filed a lawsuit against DEQ for the mislabeling, saying that it “allows Clean Harbors to evade protections needed to safeguard human health and the environment”. Litigation is pending (Louisiana Illuminator 2023)