Reflections from the field: Emergency Response in Chalmette

Bio PicBy Erik Paskewich, Social Entrepreneur

On Monday afternoon we deployed to Chalmette to conduct outreach to increase the usage of the Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map. As a new employee of the Bucket Brigade, this was my first chance to go out into the field to interact with community members. Growing up in Louisiana, I thought I had an understanding of the pollution issues around the state. After deploying to a fenceline community in Chalmette, I learned so much about an area that I originally thought I knew well.

Because the oil industry is such a large part of Louisiana’s economy, issues such as pollution are often met with tension. Talking about pollution can be a taboo topic in some communities in Louisiana. However, I found that the overwhelming majority of members of the fenceline communities in Chalmette were happy to hear from us. In nearly every house, someone was affected in some way or another by the pollution coming over the fence from the nearby refineries.

At each house, I explained the importance of using the iWitness Pollution Map. The map is a tool that allows communities to work together to monitor air quality. While conducting surveys, I spoke to mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. The level of concern varied from house to house. However, the common theme among each household that I spoke to was the agreement that the neighborhood smelled of various chemicals on a frequent basis.

Many of the houses expressed relief that I showed up at their door. Some people welcomed the opportunity to vent about their industrial neighbors. Nearly everyone had colorful language to describe the claim that no pollution was travelling over the refinery fence into the community.

They described a variety of different effects. One man described a dust that covered his car and required him to clean his car frequently. When I asked another man whether he smelled anything strange last week, he laughed and said that his front yard smelled more often than not. One mother spoke in grave tones saying that she thought she would die of lung cancer one day.

The iWitness Pollution Map allows communities to have a voice. I believe that many of these households want to see a change in their neighborhood. The people in Chalmette that I spoke to were hard-working people who deserve clean air. Going forward, I hope members of the community can work together to document the air quality in their neighborhood so that each person can demand change.

Reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map is an easy process and the contents of the map are incredibly beneficial to fenceline communities. Entire communities can make their voices heard through a group effort to report pollution to the iWitness Pollution Map. Without diligent reporting, incidents of pollution are not documented and it is as if it never actually happened.  If you live in an area of Louisiana near industrial pollution, I encourage you to use the map every time you experience pollution. Please call or text 504-272-7645 if you have experienced pollution in your area. A quick phone call or text can empower your community to take matters into their own hands.

This entry was posted in Chalmette Refining, Emergency Response Team, ExxonMobil, Grassroots Mapping- Gulf Coast, Oil Refineries, Public Health, RAIN CII. Bookmark the permalink.

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