By Matthew Kern, LABB Canvass Director
“This will be useful, Thank you for this” A single mother whispers as I hand her a quarter sheet of paper detailing LABB’s iWitness Pollution Map and Refinery Accident Database. Everyone in Chalmette is considered a fenceline neighbor of the Chalmette Refinery or the old Murphy Oil Refinery, known now as Valero. “Every day, it smells. I work at an auto-shop across the street from that…” he points to the smoke stack poking over rooftops visible over a mile away from the Chalmette Refinery. The man I’m talking to doesn’t know that in 2011 the Chalmette Refinery released 335,242 pounds of air and 1,268,631 gallons of water pollution.
“Constantly they are releasing something, don’t you smell it now?” I stop thinking to breathe, sensing a slight tinge of tar in the air. It’s subtle, but it’s there. I hand the man a leaflet detailing an interactive map the LABB has developed. The iWitness Pollution Map is a tool that turns those affected by pollution into advocates for change. It is a comprehensive data source for eye-witness accounts and reports to the National Response Center (NRC). The NRC is the sole federal point of contact for reporting oil and chemical spills in the U.S. and its territorial waters. The majority of reports come to the NRC within 24 hours making it a reliable, real time notification of the air, water, and ground pollution. Within the iWitness Pollution Map, there is a specific place where individuals can sign-up to receive updates via text or email about chemical releases in their community.
The technology facilitates matching community input with reports from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), providing a comprehensive view of what is actually happening on the ground. We use the eye-witness accounts to notify press and enforcement officials. On Tuesday May 8th, the map was used to document a five hour long flare at Shell Chemical. Accounts like this provide evidence and credibility to pressure industry to upgrade ailing infrastructure that will continue causing the accidents and leaks that affect people living close-by. This software based on the Ushahidi platform, which has been instrumental during the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, social movements in Greece, and the Egyptian Revolution. LABB’s map is the first humanitarian use of this software within the United States.
“Why do you care?” A woman curiously asks after receiving information about LABB and our efforts to help their community. “Because we all connected, the oil industry has a long history Louisiana, but they need to be doing their part to protect our community. When they don’t we as citizens need to hold them responsible and this map is one way to do that.”
If you would like to support our outreach please donate here. It is through donations that we continue to get this information out to the public. Thank you.