Fighting back in Cancer Alley

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Update, 9/6/19:  Wanhua Chemical, the Chinese company which had proposed a polyurethane-making plant in St. James Parish, has withdrawn its land use application.  Rise St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade credit grass roots opposition to the plant for a “David Beats Goliath” victory.

NEW ORLEANS –  With the promise of jobs and economic prosperity, Louisiana leaders are trying to lure more petrochemical companies to set up shop in the river parishes.

With the fear of cancer and death, residents are trying to keep those companies out.

Who’s winning?  The petrochemical companies have the numbers, but the residents seem to have the momentum.

Environmental and social justice non-profits are organizing marches and protests to fight the pollution caused by petrochemical companies in the production of things like plastic and fertilizer.  And through the power of social media, they’re reaching a wider audience than in the past.

“Rise St. James” and “Louisiana Bucket  Brigade” are two of the non-profit groups that closely monitor parish council meetings, citing pollution statistics and raising questions about residents’ safety.  Both groups post videos of these meetings on Facebook, and the result is that giant corporations which would have expected no opposition in the past, now are likely to face vigorous arguments against their plans to move in or expand.

Anne Rolfes, who founded Louisiana Bucket Brigade 20 years ago, says Louisiana residents – and some lawmakers– are starting to “wake up” to the dangers of petrochemical pollution.

“There’s comes a point, ” says Rolfes, “at which the ideas are so bad they’ll collapse under their own weight… To pretend that this sort of dirty industry is the only horse we have to ride is really unenlightened.”

In St. John Parish, residents are trying to force Denka, a Japanese rubber-making plant, to lower emissions of chloroprene– a known carcinogen.

In St. James Parish, residents are trying to stop two companies from moving in:  Formosa, a Taiwanese plastics- maker, and Wanhua, a Chinese polyurethane- maker.  Environmentalists say both companies would emit dangerous levels of toxic pollution.

The resistance from Rise St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a constant battle, at both the state and local level.

“These land use decisions are made at the very local level,” Rolfes says, “and so, on the one hand, you have parish officials who could stop these facilities, and on the other hand, if we had any sort of leadership on the state level it would never get to the local level… The state’s sole idea of economic development seems to be to accept every polluter from around the globe to come here.”




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