By Jay Colingham MPH, LABB Research Associate
Standing on the top of the levee overlooking the horizon of grain elevators, Xavier’s environmental justice freshman seminar is amazed by how close industry is to Garyville’s residents. A local homeowner describes the impact of each aspect of local industry on his family’s lives. The students see the accumulation of pollution and hear stories of injustice towards the small communities surrounded by big industry. Health plays a key role in the conversation about community impact of industrial pollution. One student complains about a scratchy throat and nausea. Just then, an employee from the grain elevator drives by while talking on a radio and the facility begins spraying water mist over the conveyor belts to reduce the amount of dust that leaves the site.
In four groups, the students partnered with a Louisiana Bucket Brigade representative and hit the streets of Garyville to canvass awareness of the iWitness pollution reporting map. There was an overwhelming response from residents with 64% choosing methods to report what they see, hear, and smell! An impressive 36% of the people the Xavier students spoke to saved the iWitness phone number into their cellular phones and many others took odor logs to record the smells they experience due to Marathon Petroleum and other local polluters. With the Bucket Brigade’s new postcard as a reminder, explanations on the ways to report are always within reach.
Most students had memorable encounters with an enthusiastic resident who described how hopeless or defenseless they felt about living so close to an industrial center. Five hours of canvasing the neighborhoods provided an experience that will impact the lives of many of the students and offers real world understanding of their class curriculum. Their professor believes that they gained enough valuable experience from their work in Garyville to assign the final term paper on environmental justice about their perceptions from canvassing.
At the end of the day, the Xavier students were given a bus tour of River Road and were able to pass Norco to see the Motiva and Valero refineries. Many students were encouraged by the stories of our work in that community with hope of a more favorable outcome in Garyville. Tired from a day of walking in the sun, the bus returned to Xavier full of quiet, reflective conversation and the occasional profound question on why social responsibility isn’t more prevalent in industry.