Home Page     Schedule    Fees   Contact us     Private Smoke Schools     Other links to information about our training

Smoke School

Stories that will make you laugh and cry- from Uncle George- an old hippie

Oprah Winfrey Cancer Alley Oil Field Patch Sludge and Class Action Lawsuits- A touch of Louisiana Politics as usual


Another Whitlow Smoke School Story from the warped brain of Uncle George, I can tell this story with half my brain tied behind my back.


I never met Oprah Winfrey, and to be honest, I can’t remember watching her shows in years.  I prefer John Wayne and Forrest Gump. Nevertheless Oprah did cause me to do quite a bit of work.


The whole ordeal started around 1992 after Sixty Minutes conducted a news story about Cancer Alley. It wasn’t long before Oprah showed up. Then our Louisiana DEQ complaint lines were flooded. Class action lawsuits were on the way, and Governor Edwin Edwards called my boss at Louisiana DEQ.


The area of Louisiana between Interstate 10 and the Mississippi River is petty well saturated with refineries, photochemical plants, grain elevators, coal loading docks, and all sorts of related industries. I love to sit on the lovely banks of the river and watch the barges of coal and the fuel tanker ships float on down the river. If you have a contact at a grain elevator, you should go fishing. The corn fed catfish under the elevator weigh about 80 pounds, but they are sort of yellowish and they taste like Wesson Oil. The grain elevator companies around here have a trend to saturate the corn in vegetable oil. This helps prevent the grain dust from blowing off the conveyor belts from the elevator to the barges and visa versa. High concentrations of grain dust in the elevator can be very explosive. One spark can ruin you whole day.


At the time, one of my many jobs at Louisiana DEQ was to set up air quality sampling sites to measure airborne particulates (dust and smoke) (causes smoke school), ozone, and other contaminants. This involved finding a suitable location, renting property for the sampling site, ordering a portable building, building a sampling platform, hauling the building in, setting it up, and leveling it. Then we had to install the electricity and phone lines. Then we had to install and calibrate the samplers themselves. The entire process took from 6 months to a year.


The boss said the Governor wanted it all done in 6 weeks. Oprah’s reports focused on a new industrial plant along the river area near Houma Louisiana. The plant was in the middle of 99 miles and miles of sugarcane fields. Barges would come down the Atchafalaya River to unload oil patch sludge and the plant would burn it in an incinerator. Although the plant had only been in operation a short while and cancer may take 10 years to develop, the plant got the blame for all of the cancer and birth defects in the area. Who would a thunk it?


The Governor pushed the panic button of the DEQ and we all rushed for action. Since I had not seen the Oprah Winfrey show, nor Sixty Minutes, nor read the newspaper, I got a surprise when I drove along the country road past the head high sugarcane. When I got close to the plant I was assaulted with picket lines, and signs all along the highway. I thought I was back in the Burma shave roadside advertising signs telling me that the plant kills, causes cancer, Edwards takes bribes, and the DEQ takes bribes. 


When I arrived at the small plant, the plant manager looked like 99 years of bad luck. He informed me that one individual in a house trailer about a half a mile from the front gate started the class action lawsuit, all of the picketing, and all of the negative publicity. The plant manager told me that the company had offered to give the man 4 million dollars, a new house trailer, and a lot to put it on. The plant manager donated two old metal 10’ X 10’ storage sheds and we installed air sampling monitors for every air pollutant known to man.


We ran the samplers 24/7 for six months and we could not find more than a trace of anything. About all I can say about the plant is that it did not smell very pretty, but the fishing there was good in the river where the barges came to unload. I enjoyed collecting samples there. I could see the 40 pound catfish clearly in the water. All you had to do was put the hook in the mouth.


We took the inspections a step further. We wanted to investigate to discover exactly why the cancer rate was higher in the area. I am lighting up a Winston as I type this story. We found out that the people in the area smoked three to four packs of cigarettes a day. They also had a steady diet of crawfish, shrimp, and bottom dwelling catfish from in and around the River. The people also drank water from old rusty metal cisterns that collected rainwater on the rooftops. We analyzed the water in the cisterns and it was full of cancer causing chemicals. You be the judge, who won the lawsuit?

Let me tell you what. I have been in this line of work since 1976 and I have never known a plant to win a class action lawsuit.


And that my friends is the way it is.



Other smoke school stories and family stories

Visible Emissions


Call us-


Contact us email,snail,phone

Add me to Whitlow Smoke School Email List

Pictures Photo Album



Certification Status, When am I due?

Recipe Cajun Fried Catfish

Recipe for Quick good Gumbo

Smoke School


 About Us

About Our Training

What to bring

Outside Links

Purchase a Ringelmann smoke chart

Request a Brochure

Private Custom-made On-site Smoke Schools

Home Page

smoke school stories and family stories

Discounts for first time attendees

Notary Services

Music Download

Visible Emissions

Refer a Friend to Smoke School


Up to 50% discount for first time customers

Frequently Asked Questions

Employment Opportunities

Blue Bayou Days- The Summer of 61/ a novel by Uncle George

EPA Method 9 Visible Emissions Form

Instructions for Method 9 form

Your Comments about this website or smoke school

What people say about Whitlow Schools

T-shirts, candy, and other merchandise- shopping.