Agriculture Street Landfill
The Agriculture Street Landfill, operated by the city of New Orleans from 1909 to the late 1960’s was a 190 acre solid waste dump. This landfill received municipal waste, construction debris, ash form incineration of municipal waste, and debris from the 1965 devastation of Hurricane Betsy that ruptured the city of New Orleans. In 1969 a program to give low income families an opportunity to become first-time homeowners was implemented by the federal government. Forty-seven acres of the landfill was developed in the 1970’s and 1980s to build Moton Elementary School and two subdivisions, Press Park and Gordon Plaza. The remaining acres of the landfill were never developed.
Agricultural Street Landfill is a moderate income community of 267 residents. The community is one hundred percent African American and has an average annual family income of $25,000. This community is contaminated with air, soil, and water pollution. In 1995, the Environmental Protection Agency declared this community a Superfund site because of the potential risk posed to the human health and the environment by hazardous contaminants.
- Although residents were not granted temporary relocation during the clean-up of their community, the workers were requested to wear protective gear “moon suits” during the clean-up.
- EPA denied a request for relocation to Agriculture Street Landfill residents and decided to instead offer the community a clean-up that included the removal of two feet of soil from land around their property. Test results showed the contamination to be as deep as 17ft.
- The cost of the clean-up for the community was estimated at $30 million. The cost for relocation of the entire community was only $12 million.
After Hurricane Katrina when the EPA tested the ground in New Orleans the old Ag Street landfill area yards had 50 times the normal level of the cancer-causing petroleum byproduct benzo(a)pyrene. Nevertheless, FEMA trailers were supplied for properties in the area. Road Home said the program would provide rebuilding grants, but not buyouts, in the area. And HANO told homeowners they could move back into their homes, even though a judge had called the neighborhood unfit for people to live. In early 2005, residents of Press Park and Gordon Plaza sued HANO and the city to pay a class-action judgment, sparked by pre-Katrina contamination issues.
In July 2008, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of the thousands of residents who sued the City of New Orleans, the Housing Authority, and school board. Judge Nadine Ramsey found that the aforementioned ignored evidence over the course of several years that the Press Park Town Homes, the Gordon Plaza Subdivision, and Moton Elementary School had been built on contaminated land. Ramsey awarded damages for lost value to those who owned property on the ninety-five acre landfill before 1994. The ruling ordered payments for emotional damage between $4,000 and $50,000 to residents, employees, and students at Moton Elementary and flat payments of $2,500 for those who lived just outside the area. Residents of Press Park and Gordon Plaza are still waiting for HANO and the City of New Orleans to pay a class-action judgment, in a suit sparked by pre-Katrina contamination issues.
East Baton Rouge Parish
Alsen, Louisiana, an unincorporated community, lies at the beginning of Cancer Alley, and is several miles from Baton Rouge. This community of 1,000 residents is ninety-nine percent (99%) African American with an average annual family income of less than $15,000.
Alsen is burdened with toxic releases from 11 near-by petrochemical plants, a lead smelter, coke ovens, two Superfund sites, a commercial hazardous waste incinerator, numerous hazardous waste landfills, and city garbage dumps.
The people in Alsen complain of many illnesses. More than 80% suffer respiratory problems including asthma (21%), difficulty breathing, and sinus problems. Rashes are common (8%). Spontaneous nosebleeds including severe hemorrhaging began showing up in 1991. Many suffer frequent headaches, irritated eyes, nose bleeds, sore throats, arthritic-like pains (including children), bleeding gums, and host of other illnesses. The cancer rate also appears to be very high. On one street, Springfield Road, there have been seven cases of cancer and two deaths, with two very seriously ill as of this writing within a span of six years, all out of nine families. The health assessment, begun in early 1991 by ATSDR is still not complete. We just keep getting excuses, while people keep getting exposed, getting sick, and dying. –By Florence T. Robinson
Alsen, Louisiana finds itself continually fighting to keep hazardous and dirty industry out of their community. The most recent fight was with a Colorado company that once again, was trying to secure a permit from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) to dispose of originally designed for hazardous waste from tow contaminated sites west of Alsen.
Juanita Stewart of the North Baton Rouge Environmental Association said, the plant of put another dump near Alsen is “just another injustice to the minority community.” Residents from the Alsen 500 letters contesting a permit for the industrial waste dump northwest of their community. After a long protracted battle LDEQ denied the permit.
Before Hurricane Katrina the population of Central City was 19,072. Since Katrina, the population has dropped to 17,000. The average family income of African American residents is $14,000. A large part of Central City is above sea-level, therefore most of the property in Central City sustained wind damage from Hurricane Katrina. Approximately 3,200 of the housing structures in the community were built in 1939 or earlier, with 70 of the newest structures being built between 1989 and March of 1990. Many of the older homes and dwelling units were built well before the banning of lead-based paint from wood weather boards that have been painted multiple times. Also, many of the housing units in these areas are abandoned or condemned; but chipping or peeling paint in many of these homes directly exposes children and adults to lead either through direct contact or through inhaling the dust through their lungs, where it then enters the bloodstream.
Katrina exacerbated the problem of lead exposure, blighted homes, and vacant lots. Central City residents particularly children and the elderly are at risk of lead exposure due to the old housing stock in the community.
St. James Parish
In the small community of Romeville, the population is approximately 2,100 with African American comprising 82% of the population. The Romeville’s unemployment rate is 12% and 45% of its citizens live below the poverty level. The main economic base of Romeville is agriculture, tourism, and the petrochemical industry.
Within a three-mile radius, there are approximately five operating plants: Occidental Chemical, Zen Noh Grain Elevator, IMC-Agrico (Eastbank and Westbank), and Star Enterprise Refinery. The plants and other parish industries emitted more than 16 million pounds of toxic emissions into the environment making St. James the fourth ranking parish in total toxic emission for 1994. This accounts for 360 pounds of toxic chemicals per person. Construction is underway for three new iron mills.
The Convent Victory
The Shintech Corporation, which is Japanese owned, attempted to build the world’s largest polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics production facility in Convent, Louisiana. Convent is a small rural town approximately 2000 people in St. James Parish and is located in what is popularly called “Cancer Alley”. The area in Convent closet to the proposed Shintech site is 82% African American.
The proposed Shintech plant was to have been a massive operation. It would have had three components:
- Three chemical processing units.
- A hazardous waste incinerator.
- A number of on-site storage tanks.
The releases also would have been quite enormous. It was estimated that this facility would release 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air and daily pump 8 million gallons of waste into the Mississippi River. The community of Convent, especially the area of Convent selected for the construction of the PVC plant, is already inundated with chemical plants and toxic emissions. Within a three-mile radius there are six operating plants. Construction is also underway for three new iron mills. The residents of Convent bitterly complained about the pollution in their community. They reported numerous health problems such as asthma, respiratory problems, cancers, and other diseases they associate with the chemicals spewing form so many plants in the neighborhood. Tired of the pollution, the Shintech Corporation had become the last straw for a very large and vocal group of Convent citizens. After local politicians refused to be of any assistance with this matter, the St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment (SJCJE) was formed. SJCJE has aggressively moved ahead in a legal battle to stop the construction of Shintech.
On April 2, 1997, Greenpeace and Tulane University Law Clinic, representing Convent residents and 16 environmental and pubic interest organizations, filed a citizen’s petition (administrative complaint) under Title V (the permitting program) of the Clean Air Act that demanded an objection to air permits proposed for Shintech by the state of Louisiana. On May 21, 1997, Greenpeace and Tulane University Law Clinic filed an amended petition with EPA that provided the agency with additional grounds for objection to Shintech’s air permits. Among these were the contention that Convent is a community that has the protection of the President’s Executive Order of 1994 on Environmental Justice.
On September 10,1998, as a result of enormous pressure from SJCJE and its allies, EPA administrator Carol Browner, in an unprecedented action, rejected Shintech’s permit on technical grounds but rejected the environmental justice arguments in the Title V petition. The EPA found 50 technical deficiencies in Shintech’s permit. This was the first time EPA has accepted a citizen complaint under Title V.
On September 18,1998, Shintech announced that it had aborted its plans to develop its plant in Convent, LA, but had decided to move about 25 miles up river to Plaquemine, Louisiana, located near Baton Rouge.
Eastern New Orleans
New Orleans East is the portion of the city to the east of the Industrial Canal and north of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRG0). Eastern New Orleans began to grow in population in the early 1970’s. The main urban buildup is the section east of the Industrial Canal, which includes such neighborhoods as Lake Kenilworth, Seabrook, Melia, Pines Village, Lake Forest East, Lake Forest West, Edgelake, Littlewoods, Plum Orchard, Bonita Park, Donna Villa, Lake Carmel, Willowbrook, and Camelot. Village de L'Est is known for its Vietnamese community.
Escaping the incoming Communist regime at the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese fled to America in the mid-1970s, and quite a large number settled in Louisiana. The Vietnamese settled in the newer, suburban parts of the city, particularly in New Orleans East. The children of the first Vietnamese immigrants have grown up in New Orleans, filling the enrollments at local schools and universities and integrating themselves into New Orleans East.
The Read Blvd East area which includes Lake Forest Estates, Eastover Estates, McKendall Estates, Fairway Estates, Lake Bullard, and McKendall Place are all upper middle class neighborhoods. At one time it was the most sought after area to live in the city. It was also the most racially integrated. Black home ownership was nearly at par with whites. The oil “bust” of the eighties, however, created a housing glut as white residents moved to the North Shore. Luxury apartments overnight became rent subsidy apartments and the neighborhood began to change. Along with this change came the abandonment of the area by most restaurants. The shopping centers have been replaced with numerous disseminates (i.e. fast food chains, pawn shops, liquor stores, and convenience stores).
Before Hurricane Katrina, the population of New Orleans East was 96,000 with a population of 8,000 Vietnamese. Since the storm, approximately 65,000 residents have returned. The average family income of African American residents in this community is $52,000 in the Vietnamese community $37,000. The majority of New Orleans East homes and businesses were severely flooded by the storm. Most homes sustained at least four (4) feet of water from the storm. Since Katrina, New Orleans East has been lost or forgotten in recovery efforts. There have been no increased levee protection. As of 2009, many businesses have not returned, the two hospitals are still closed; and only one of the four full service supermarkets has returned.
Geismar is predominately African-American community (70%) with a median income of $26,000. Located in this community is Borden Chemicals and Plastics which is one of the states leading air polluters. Additionally, other polluters such as BASF and the Arcadian Corporation are housed in this community.
The Geismar/St. Gabriel area consists of a 10 square-mile region that houses 18 petrochemical plants that discharge approximately 200 million pounds of toxic emissions in the air, soil, and water each year. The area is also surrounded by known Superfund sites that contribute to the health concerns of nearby residents.
In 1998, the United States Environmental Protection Agency settled a legal suit with Borden Chemicals and Plastics for $3.6 million dollars in penalty and cost for the clean up of groundwater pollution at its plant in Geismar.
EPA’s contention is that Borden Chemicals and Plastics was responsible for toxic contamination of groundwater and posed a threat to public health. The contamination was approaching the NORCO Aquifer, which flows under the site and provides drinking water to nearby residents. The settlement requires the following actions from Bolden:
- Pay a civil penalty of $3.6 million to the government.
- Set aside $400,000 to pay for equipment for local emergency response units and other environmental projects.
- Perform a facility wide “corrective action” aimed at studying and cleaning up groundwater contamination at the site.
- Investigate possible contamination of the Norco drinking water aquifer, which runs under the plant, and at eight specific sites at the facility.
- End the use of injection wells, which Borden used to pump non-hazardous waste underground. Ending their use is expected to cost $3million.
- Apply for a license for its so-called VCR unit, which EPA claimed is an incinerator and which Borden asserted was a waste minimization project that used “super-heated air”.
Edward Jackson, of Geismar recognizes that the EPA is taking notice of and combating the detrimental effects of the polluters, but he believes that it is “too late….the damage has set in.” According to Jackson, EPA is not doing enough because without living in and with the pollution one cannot fully understand the situation. Corporations take on the oblivious “plantation attitude,” believing all that the government says about the insignificant environmental harm of the industries is true.
The Gentilly neighborhood is home to historic Dillard University and the largest collection of California Craftsman-style bungalows in Louisiana. There are also many English cottages and Spanish and Mediterranean Revival raised houses from the early 1900s. Part of this neighborhood became Gentilly Boulevard and later U.S. Highway 90 – part of the Old Spanish Trail – that connected St. Augustine, Florida to Los Angeles, California. The Gentilly neighborhood is bounded by Lake Ponchartrain to the north, Peoples Avenue to the east, the Bayou St. John to the west and the Louisville and Nashville Railrood to the south. The major north-south streets are Franklin Avenue, Elysian Fields Avenue, St. Anthony, St. Bernard, St. Roch, Paris, Wisner, AP Tureaud (London) Avenue and Press.
Before Hurricane Katrina, the Gentilly population was approximately 55,000. It is a predominately African American community with an average household income of $37,968. Gentilly was badly damaged following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the London Avenue Canal levees breeched in two places. Gentilly’s population has slowly returned with most homes requiring major gutting and repair work. The area is moderately populated with approximately half of residents and businesses returned.
Mossville is an unincorparated community in southwest Louisiana that was founded in the 1870's by African Americans with a vision of creating a place where their children could live and prosper in a safe haven from racial hostility. The natural environment allowed even the poorest families in Mossville to live well by fishing, hunting, and farming for private use and small business.
Today, Mossville is a victim of environmental racism. The community is surrounded by no less that 15 industrial facilities that include oil refineries, petrochemical manufacturers, and a coal fired power plant within one-half mile of African American residents. Nine of these facilities report spewing over 1, 000,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air each year. Local industries have also contaminated the fish, and polluted lakes and bayous. The chemicals released by nearby industries are known to damage human health by causing cancer, attacking the reproductive system, creating learning and behavioral disorders, weakening the immune system, and harming internal
Norco Old Diamond Plantation
St. Charles Parish
Old Diamond Plantation in Norco, Louisiana is one hundred percent (100%) African American. This community has a total population of 1,020 with an average annual family income of $14,000. Residents at Old Diamond Plantation are inundated with pollution form the nearby Shell Refinery and Shell Chemical Company. Shell Chemical Plant is located on one side of town and Shell Oil Refinery is located on the opposite side. The Old Diamond Plantation community in Norco, Louisiana is within 10 feet of the fence line of Shell Norco Refinery that emits toxins routinely thus endangering the health of residents.
In September of 1997, residents went to court against Shell but the final ruling was not favorable to them. Residents learned to sample their own air when releases occurred using the “bucket”. Sample analyses proved unfavorable to Shell. After many samples, demonstrations, meetings and national exposure due to an Internet camera focused on them, Shell has said that a buy-out of the community is possible, allowing residents to relocate, paying them fairly for their current residences. However, the final chapter has not been written and much remains on the table for discussion.
The residents of the Diamond Community in Norco, Louisiana are sandwiched between the Shell Chemical Plant and the Shell/Motiva Refinery. Loud noises, noxious odors and deadly chemicals are constant neighbors of the citizens of Norco. The view from their front windows is of the pipes, storage tanks, and production towers of a petro-chemical plant. Flares erupt noisily and unpredictably, sometimes roaring through the night. Delivery trucks and vehicles servicing the chemical plant move deadly chemicals through their communities. Unexplained booming noises shake their homes in the night. Strange smells waft into their homes producing headaches and breathing difficulties (Shell Norco Toxic Neighbor, 1999).
- Norco community residents exposed to a white gas that entered their homes causing their eyes and throats to burn with feelings of nausea that sent many residents to the emergency room was described by Shell as only steam.
- Samples of the air taken by Citizens for a Better Environment, that were analyzed by an EPA approved laboratory showed that it was Methyl-Ethyl Ketone (MEK) which is known to cause irritation of eyes and nausea and other health effects.
- Shell conceded that a tank containing MEK was over-pressurized, but continued to assert their position of “no chemical releases from the tank”.
After years of struggle for relocation away from Shell facilities, Concerned Citizens of Norco has achieved an environmental justice victory. The group is organized by African American families living in the Diamond Community of Norco, Louisiana. On June 9, 2002, Concerned Citizens of Norco and Shell announced to the Diamond Community the "Diamond Options Program" that allows residents to relocate away from Shell facilities. In addition, Shell has committed to investing $200 million in environmental improvements at its facilities. This program marks a historic moment for both Shell and communities that are on the fenceline of industrial facilities.
Tremé is one of New Orleans' most historic communities. Tremé is the subject to voluminous highway traffic that spews toxins into the community, and old buildings and outdated housing stock that contribute to the lead paint problem. Seventy-four percent (74%) of the housing units in this community were built before 1939, therefore, causing concern for lead based paint problems. The accumulation of lead from car exhaust and deteriorating paint on houses and buildings results in lead poisoning, especially among children playing in outdoor areas. Children absorb more lead through their stomachs and lungs, and at a faster rate, than do adults.
Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the Tremé residents are African American; and seventy-five percent (75%) of all households are headed by females. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the residents are living in poverty, with the area having one of the highest unemployment rates in the city. The average household income is $19,564.
Tremé was a social and cultural Mecca for musicians and artists of all genres in its early years; however, demolition and construction projects centering on building Interstate-10 in the mid1960s practically destroyed its vibrancy. In recent years, there have been attempts to gentrify the area. Post Katrina, the area’s recovery has been slowed due to the lack of affordable housing.