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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -
Invasive black dust from a local industrial company is causing more than just concern for neighbors. It's even prompted an investigation by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Carrie Withers and her husband have lived on North General Wainright Drive off Highway 14 for 30 years. Despite a fresh coat of paint back in November, their home has seen better days.
"I'm wiping my house with a white cloth and this black stuff it's picking up is on our cars and it's in our houses. This kind of stuff is all over the place and this is what we have to put up with," said Withers.
Withers said she started to notice the mysterious black dust last summer. She replaced her roof after Hurricane Rita but it, too, is covered in the black dust.
"We would be sitting inside the house and we could see the black stuff tumbling in and didn't know where it was coming from," said Withers.
The culprit - a company right in her own back yard - Industrial Carbon Services, Inc. The company repackages petro-coke. During that process, fine black dust is let off into the air.
It went unnoticed for quite a while because Withers said large Dumpsters, double-stacked, blocked the view of what was going on. One afternoon, Withers captured footage on her home video camera of the dust coming out of the building.
"When I saw that and looked at my roof I realized that we are breathing a lot of this stuff and I was kind of fearful of what it would do. I'm very concerned about my health and the health of every else in the neighborhood," said Withers. "Depending on which way the wind is blowing, there are other neighborhoods and businesses that are likely getting some of this stuff and I think they should know."
According to DEQ, the black dust is not hazardous. They've given the company until mid-March to resolve the problem.
Just last week, Industrial Carbon Services put up a netting system as a short-term solution to keep the black dust from going off-site. However, residents don't believe it will be effective.
"To me, it was a joke when I first saw it. Because this net is supposed to catch some of the dust but if you look at it, you cannot contain dust because what they have back there is so fine that it will pass through that," said Withers.
Residents held a meeting with the company on Monday, Feb. 18. Also, there were administrators with the City of Lake Charles, City Councilman Rodney Geyen and a representative from DEQ.
The City of Lake Charles told KPLC that the company's owner said they plan to also move their packing process to a yellow building on the west side of the property. The building will also include an air-filtering system.
Meanwhile, Withers' patience is wearing thin.
"Right now, we are like prisoners in our homes. Because we can't raise our windows up. We can't open our back doors. We can't sit outside and enjoy what we used to enjoy. So we are like prisoners," said Withers.
Attempts to reach someone with Industrial Carbon Services were unsuccessful. However, city officials believe the owner is trying to resolve the issue. City officials also said they, along with DEQ, will stay on top of the issue and take it to the next level if it's not resolved.