By Matthew Kern, Membership Coordinator
Last Friday, the Bucket Brigade’s Rapid Response Team deployed to Chalmette to talk to residents about their experiences and health effects after high levels of sulfur dioxide were measured in their area. The recent sulfur dioxide release, which exceeded the state limit, is suspected to have come from the Rain CII Petroleum Coke Processing Plant. This is the second release of this kind in the past month, the first on December 22nd, forced the Chalmette ferry to turn around on its trip from Algiers after the captain and several passengers became ill. Exposure to sulfur dioxide can be harmful, causing eye irritation, coughing, headaches, nasal blockage, emphysema, and bronchitis, and can exacerbate existing heart conditions. These effects can be more severe in children, elderly people, and asthmatics.
“My Cancer is in remission, it’s the 2nd time I’ve been diagnosed with it since 2010. This neighborhood is full of stories like mine.” She continues to list off members of her community that have been diagnosed with cancer, ten people off the top of her head. “Colon cancer, pancreas cancer, colon, colon, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma…all under 50 and the kid with lymphoma is 21.” She talked about like it’s not a shocker, that this is common knowledge in her community. After having three major chemical releases (a cloud of chemicals sends ferry boat crew and passengers to hospital, an unknown release of sulfur dioxide three times the EPA’s level considered safe, & most recently residents waking up to their cars and homes covered in oil) in the past month affect her community in the Chalmette Vista Neighborhood, I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Every person I talked to knew the smell I was speaking of; many invited me in to their homes talk about their experience. The long standing abuse by multiple local companies is why we deployed our Rapid Response Team (RRT). The Bucket Brigade developed RRT for specifically this purpose, to go out after a sizable accident to engage the community and give them a tool they can use. The iWitness Polution Map is a central location where people can report the basics of what they are experiencing: who, what, when, and where. This information combined with specific health impacts does 2 things: create a community log of their experiences and allows people to see that they are not alone. These elemental steps provide a foundation for people to organize and actually move towards change.
“Thank you, I’ll report now. Do you have a couple more of these [iWitness Pollution Map] postcards? I know a couple of people who will report. We’ll be having a neighborhood association meeting in the spring; it’d be good to start talking more about this…”
If you have been around Chalmette in the past couple weeks, had any health effects, or seen or smelled anything unusual please report to the iWitness Pollution Map.