Joining the Fight

By Jay Colingham MPH, LABB Research Associate


Plants are just the industrial version of plantations.  This simple concept summarizes a week of intensive training here at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB).  On my first day at work, I joined some staff members in Baton Rouge to relocate and set up an H2S and SO2 monitor for the ExxonMobil refinery to a site thought to be closer to the wind patterns of the area.

Between rain showers we set it up and installed the software on our community liaison’s laptop.  The homeowner spoke with us about their community, home, family, and the social atmosphere in their neighborhood.  Being called to action resounded throughout the discussion we had over citizen responsibility in industrial pollution.  Within half an hour, we had our first samples from the monitor and we all hoped this would be in the right place at the right time to validate our efforts.

Despite the community’s inherent nature of distrust in the refinery, shown by hosting the air monitor and clear symptoms of asthma from the close proximity to ExxonMobil, our host showed me that our efforts to bring justice has nothing to do with victimization of a society and everything to do with a fight for social equity.  Then and there, I joined the fight.

The rest of my first week involved hours of familiarization with the archaic Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) database and site visits to investigate unreported releases. I can readily say that I have dove into my work head first.  Systems currently in place at the state level to report industrial accidents and guarantee justice to low income communities does not have enough support to ensure a fair outcome.

Fighting for environmental justice materialized as a steep uphill battle with bureaucracy.  LABB provides an imperative service to the citizens of Louisiana and is needed for the success of research and community action. Community groups clearly want the Bucket Brigade and their staff of motivated and hardworking citizens, in addition to support and experience in utilizing the services and tools provided by LDEQ, EPA, and university partners.

Considering the combined breadth of knowledge and experience at LABB, I see the momentum of our work making a lasting improvement for Louisiana.  This is an exciting time to join the Bucket Brigade and I am anxious to get to work with this group of incredible people!

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