EJ Corps Week Two: A different reality in north Baton Rouge

ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, the second largest refinery in the country, is right up against the Istrouma neighborhood. Photo by Monique Verdin

This post summarizes week two of Akasa Thomas’ Environmental Justice Corps fellowship at LABB. Last week, LABB summer interns met with community organizer Cheryl Sanford, a resident of the Gardere neighborhood in Baton Rouge who has fought against a nearby sewer treatment plant on behalf of her community. She took them to the north Baton Rouge community of Istrouma near the ExxonMobil complex, where she is currently working to organize residents.

Looking back on last week’s tour to Baton Rouge left me feeling as though I have a lot of work to do within myself. As a New Orleans resident, I have driven through Baton Rouge many times to enjoy things like shopping and dining. With that being said, I neglected to see the underlying issues that the less fortunate individuals in some Baton Rouge communities face.

We arrived in East Baton Rouge at 9 a.m., where we were greeted with a horrid smell in the Gardere neighborhood. Community organizer Cheryl Sanford brought us to north Baton Rouge, where we saw the Honeywell facility. From the highway, I could see the smoke stacks and the corroding structures of the entire facility. We then passed by ExxonMobil, which extended several blocks into the Istrouma neighborhood. The irony of it all was that there was a funeral home in very close proximity to the plant.

Along the Scenic Highway there is a billboard for ExxonMobil that states, ‘’Safety is our first priority when we volunteer in the community.’’ The question is when do they volunteer in the community, when there is no one out because of the pollutants in the area? We then drove down a street that consisted of more facilities such as Albarmarle that had several smoke stacks emitting chemicals. In addition, we passed Formosa Plastics, which reeked of an unexplainable smell. Lastly, we passed Lion Copolymer and the smell from this facility gave me a headache, made me cough and even caused my eyes to burn.

Our tour ended with a seafood lunch from Tony’s Seafood in the Istrouma area. This community is a very busy place with lots of residents. To match this is a large amount of sewerage flies that is absolutely extreme. We ate at the local park and before we could sit down, the flies were hovering all around. Cheryl told us that people in the area have to get new screen doors very frequently because they are full of dead sewer flies; and sometimes they fly into their mouths while they are eating.

After this experience, I decided that the health issues facing this community is something that needs to be focused on for far more than the summer and I am ready for the challenge!

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