|Todd Harter, an environmental scientist with Honeywell Specialty Materials (right) poses with environmental sciences students from RPCC as they tour Honeywellâ€™s ten acre wildlife habitat in Geismar. Pictured left to right are: Melissa Perez, Wendy Jorgensen, instructor Larry Bird, Ashley Doucet, Gabrielle Falick, Nannette Crystal, and Todd Harter.
Students from River Parishes Community College recently left the classroom and literally took their environmental studies into the field. They took tours of a solid waste landfill, a petrochemical plant, and a wildlife habitat area.
At Honeywell Specialty Materials in Geismar, Brad Campesi, Honeywell’s environmental health and safety manager, gave the RPCC students an overview of the chemical processes and products created at the industrial facility. He showed them Honeywell’s newest control room, where process technicians monitor operations taking place throughout the plant site. The students also got face-to-face with an alligator and numerous other native creatures and plants that reside in Honeywell’s wildlife habitat area.
As part of the 1,900 acre plant site, Honeywell maintains a 10-acre wildlife habitat area, certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council. This wildlife habitat, which includes a seven-acre wetland lake, is home to many native plants, birds, and animals, including a large family of alligators.
“This was a great learning opportunity for my students,” said Larry Bird, who teaches ecology, biology and nutrition classes at RPCC. “We saw alligators, raccoons, and all sorts of birds in the wetlands. But even more, we had the chance to see how a local petrochemical plant –which is usually perceived as being a negative environmental force - is actually taking an aggressive role in nurturing the environment.”
Three members of Honeywell’s environmental department led RPCC students through the wildlife area. Byron Braud, an environmental engineer, shared his knowledge of native plants and wildlife with students as he tried to coax some of the wood ducks out of their boxes.
“I learned so much on this field trip,” said Wendy Jorgensen, an RPCC student from Gonzales. “I got to see the inside workings of a plant—how it’s arranged and how the chemicals are transported. I’m really hoping to get a job working in one of the plants when I finish school.”
On the same outing, the RPCC students also toured the Colonial Landfill in Sorrento. There, they learned that the landfill receives about 300,000 tons of waste a year from homes and businesses in Ascension and the surrounding parishes.
Karla Swacker, marketing director for Allied Waste, pointed out to students the numerous groundwater monitoring wells and described the extensive security measurements in the landfill system to protect the environment. Swacker also explained that at least one third of the materials buried daily in the landfill are recyclable goods. However, the methane gas produced by the food and yard waste as it decomposes in the landfill is being captured in pipes and can be utilized by area industries as an alternative to natural gas.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they can actually make fuel out of garbage,” said Ashley Doucet, an RPCC student from Paulina.
However, Doucet also said she found the landfill a little scary. “Seeing all that garbage as it was dumped out of the trucks was kind of scary because it made me aware of how much I contribute to the litter industry,” Doucet said.
There is no recycling program for residents in St. James Parish, where Doucet lives. In fact, only a handful of cities in Louisiana - Shreveport, Lafayette, Gonzales, and Baton Rouge - currently offer curbside recycling to their residents.
The student field trip to Honeywell Specialty Materials and the Colonial Landfill was facilitated through a one-year grant for an environmental sciences concentration at RPCC.