Communities in the shadow of industry wait to be seen

Dawn Collins recently began working with LABB as a community organizer for the Baton Rouge community of Istrouma, right outside an industrial cluster of 15 facilities, including ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, the second largest refinery in the country. Collins has worked as a community organizer for national campaigns and as a program specialist for the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals. Below is her first post for LABB’s blog:

I’m sitting in the emergency room of Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge with a foot injury. It reminds me of years ago when I once frequented emergency rooms with my then-small children who had “allergies” that often lead to major bronchial infections. I sometimes wonder if their allergies were related to chemical pollution in the environment. Somehow, recently learning that the Louisiana Chemical Association once funded a project by the Louisiana Tumor Registry to analyze links between cancer and proximity to industry, thus potentially controlling the data (see this report from 2005), gives me little comfort that parents of young children will be able to determine such correlations – or doctors for that matter. I did find it kind of odd that my sons’ bronchial woes were explained away by “allergies.” Though, I suppose, anyone would have an allergic response to toxins.

But here I sit, waiting to be seen about my foot in the emergency room. This is the same medical center slated to close in the next few years. The same facility whose patients will now be dispersed to hospitals further away from their neighborhood – a neighborhood that not only has an inadequate transit system but also happens to be in the shadow of 15 industrial plants known to generate toxic pollution.

I wait to be seen.

The pain in my foot is not intense but very real – enough for me to know that something is not right and could get worse if not treated. It’s like the problem fenceline residents deal with daily – repeated exposure to chemicals that will have a lasting affect further down the line. It’s the problem faced by people like Momma Seabell, a leader in the Istrouma community I just began helping to organize.

They wait to be seen.

They wait to be seen as worthy of clean air and the resources necessary to be a sustainable community. I listen to their stories of pain, and it is very real and very intense. They smell the pollutants regularly released by their corporate neighbors who don’t seem to care, or downplay the effects. Their young and their elderly suffer from “asthma and allergies” as my babies once did.

In a little while, I have received my care. I no longer wait to be seen.

I prepare to go home with splint in place and crutches to keep me balanced – my broken foot free of weight so it may begin to heal. As I depart, I wonder: When will Istrouma’s weight be lifted?

This entry was posted in Istrouma Community, Oil Refineries, Public Health. Bookmark the permalink.

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