By Molly Brackin, Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist
Last week I had the privilege of traveling to both Shreveport and Baton Rouge to meet residents of the communities LABB is actively involved with. I have been working for the Bucket Brigade for about a month and a half now, and every morning I transcribe iWitness reports detailing the odors and other nuisances coming from the refineries and petrochemical companies surrounding these neighborhoods. Visiting the fenceline communities in Baton Rouge and Shreveport provided me with a visual of where these iWitness reports are coming from. More importantly, I got to meet some of the residents who are making these reports, and are affected by the petrochemical companies on a daily basis.
LABB works with Residents for Air Neutralization (RAN) in Shreveport to monitor the air in the neighborhoods around Calumet Lubricants, LLC. Some of these neighborhoods are right next to the refinery, separated by drainage ditch and a rusty fence. I spent an hour walking around Mooretown with some of the members of RAN. We went from door-to-door talking to residents and reminding them to report to the iWitness map anytime they saw or smelled pollution. We heard stories from some of the residents about how the refinery affects their daily lives. As we walked through the neighborhood I was struck by just how close Calumet really is to some of these houses. Calumet’s flares appear to be in the backyards of these homes, so it’s no wonder why so many of these residents are pushing for relocation. It’s obvious that this community is committed to change, and it was such a great experience to meet these people. I had a lot of fun hanging out with the lovely ladies of RAN.
On August 31 I spent the day in the Standard Heights neighborhood in Baton Rouge for their first annual Community Art Day. This event, which was put on by the Standard Heights Community Organizer Faith Ashton, was a celebration of art, community and clean air. About 35 residents stopped by throughout the day to help paint a mural that Faith had designed. The mural depicts community members standing in solidarity in front of the fictional Rusty & Co. Refinery. It reads, “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!” I had so much fun working with the kids (and even a handful of adults) to create a piece of educational art that will be permanently displayed in the neighborhood. Community Art Day was a really fun way to meet the community members that LABB is working with, and to discuss how we can all work together to achieve a healthier community.
I look forward to the next time I travel to Shreveport and Baton Rouge. It is inspiring to be around the residents of these neighborhoods, because even though environmental injustice is their reality, they do not give up. It could be so easy to give up, because it feels like a “David and Goliath” type of fight, but there some great people in Baton Rouge and Shreveport who will not be discouraged. I feel so grateful to be a part of an organization of people who are committed to cleaner air, safer refineries and healthier communities.