Is Pollution in Small Town La. a Case of Environmental Racism?

Alex Presha, The Grio, April 21, 2010

About three and a half hours west of New Orleans, there’s a town–Mossville, Louisiana. It’s a predominantly African-American town. It’s been that way since the 1790s.

The town is still tiny. There are only about 800 people at its core. But it’s no longer a farm town. Fields were replaced with houses and chemical plants. Fourteen plants now surround the small community.

Decades after the first chemical companies moved in, Mossville residents are convinced that these plants are making them sick.

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[Dorothy] Felix has lived in Mossville most of her life. Her hometown has long served as a refuge for blacks who weren’t welcome in other communities.

“We were here before these plants came and we were here because this was a Afro-American community and we didn’t have anywhere that we could go. We had to go somewhere were we felt safe and away from all the racial problems that were going on. This was the place for us. Now they’re forcing us to leave.”

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Spend some time with Mossville residents and you’ll quickly find that everyone has a cousin, neighbor, sibling or parent with cancer or respiratory illness.

Delma Bennett and his family have lived in Mossville for decades. He took theGrio on a tour of his neighborhood.

“We have three times the amount of dioxin in our bodies in comparison to the rest of the communities in America,” he said.

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“That you have this racial disparity of these people of color getting the short end of the stick, that’s a human rights violation and that’s racism,” said environmental lawyer Monique Harden. “The pollution in the air and in the environment and in the soil is having an effect on the health of the residents.”

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All throughout Mossville there are remnants of empty driveways. They are plots of land where houses once stood. Now they’re taken over by brush because testing showed the land was toxic.

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Cancer experts say that when you find concentrations of cancer in one community, it’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the disease, but the large number of cancers in a town like Mossville may be the result of contamination that comes from a shared resource, like air or water.

Local plants deny any involvement in endangering the health of Mossville residents. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency has not found any of the companies guilty of regulatory violations.

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