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6 Investigates Follows Up: Bauxite rust remains a problem for those downwind of Sherwin-Alumina

Posted: 12:45 PM, Apr 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-27 14:00:18-04

Take a stroll around Greg Burnett’s Taft-area home, and you’ll find the only thing that should be rust-colored are the chickens.

Everything else – tractors, lawnmowers, floors, ceilings, walls, mailboxes, work sheds, and air-conditioners – are coated in rust because of the Bauxite dust blowing in from across the street.

Bauxite, a by-product of the Sherwin-Alumina process, is a fine, red, caustic powder that blows from the sludge pit and sticks to anything it hits.

Burnett has been fighting the stuff for years, and, now that Sherwin-Alumina is in bankruptcy, the problem is as bad as ever.

"When you’re out here trying to mow or edge or do the chickens, you’re coughin’, your eyes are burnin’, and you get it all over your face," he tells 6 Investigates. "You go in you wipe your face (and) it’s all over your face."

Burnett is part of a group that fought and won a lawsuit against the company, but he does not expect to see any of the money. In any event, it is not much money – about $8,000.  That’s barely enough to cover a year’s expenses related to the bauxite damage on his home.

"The loss I’ve had on this property for all the dust and damages -I’d say I spend about $6,000 to $8,000 a year."

6 Investigates first highlighted the problem three years ago, when dust clouds billowed across Burnett’s property.  Texas Commission on Environmental Quality data shows almost 80 complaints filed against the sludge pits in the past decade. The last one came in March. It has since been closed.

Burnett says he’s given up on hoping TCEQ will find a permanent solution. That’s because TCEQ classifies Bauxite – the key component in making aluminum – as a nuisance, and nothing more.

Burnett disagrees.

"This stuff is not a nuisance. It doesn’t spray off – it sticks. And, it doesn’t come off."