EJ Corps Week Two: Something rotten in Baton Rouge

The sewer treatment facility in Gardere next to the Evangeline Estates apartment complex.

This post summarizes week two of Schree Greene’s 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.

This was my second week in Louisiana so I was excited to leave New Orleans and see other parts of the state. This time, it was Baton Rouge.  The hour and half trip was more than worth the drive for a North Carolina native.

As we entered the Evangeline Estates apartment complex in the Gardere neighborhood, my initial feeling of excitement slowly turned to a feeling of nausea. I began to feel slightly lightheaded due to a strong sulfur/boiled egg smell in the air. When I looked up to the sky, I noticed there were large gray clouds of smoke floating by. Ahead of us was a sign for the Starwood Court Park. On my right, there was a low-income apartment complex. And over my left shoulder sat a sewer treatment facility.

Construction going on at the sewer treatment facility behind Starwood Courth Park.

How could someone think a good location for a sewer treatment facility would be right next to a local park and a minority neighborhood?

When I spoke with Cheryl Sanford, she said: “I have been living here (Evangeline Estates) for more than 30 years. My kids have being playing in this local park for 15 years. And this sewer facility has been here for more than two years. Every year, the facility moves closer and closer to our home. I have had two strokes in the past year and now I have asthma. I don’t believe this is a coincidence.”

Cheryl gave us an opportunity to see her home. As I walked into her apartment I was greeted with not only the awful sewer stench from outside, but there was another odor inside that literally took my breath away. Cheryl noticed the painful look on my face. She quickly explained, “I’m sorry for the smell. I have to spray pesticides down for the sewer bugs. They invade all the apartments here.”

I left Baton Rouge with a terrible migraine and the fumes in the air immediately gave me the feeling of exhaustion. I can only imagine the health status of the children who play in the local park or the residents who have to inhale the toxic chemicals on a daily basis. For me, the situation facing this neighborhood was the definition of environmental justice issues.

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