September 27, 2011 - In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice has partnered with communities along the Gulf Coast monitoring waste disposed in landfills near communities of color. A multi-state community training was held Saturday, September 17, 2011, in Avondale, Louisiana to train community residents in waste tracking, landfill truck traffic monitoring, and air emissions. As of November 7, 2010, landfills in areas where the minority population is larger than fifty (50%) of the total population received 33, 259 tons or 40.3% of the waste from the BP spill.
Residents were engaged in interactive workshop sessions including topics on Deepwater Horizon waste tracking, protecting human rights after the oil disaster, and adverse health effects of air emissions from landfill diesel trucks, and community resilience and landfill operations. Residents learned about a range of environmental hazards associated with landfills.
Community training participants were asked to describe the hazards they have observed in their community. They indicated the presence of foul odors from nearby landfill(s), sewage plants, various fires, and chemical plants. They also mentioned water pollution, illegal dumping, and vectors (rats, mosquitoes, and other rodents) as hazards of concern.
Some negative impacts of landfills include ground water and surface water quality, leachate migration, migration of methane and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), illegal roadside dumping near landfills, odors, dust and litter, decreased property values, and increased diesel truck traffic and exhaust pollution.
Truck traffic and diesel engine emissions contribute to serious public health problems, including premature mortality, aggravation of existing asthma, acute respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, and decreased lung function. More than 30 health studies have linked diesel engine emissions to increased incidences of various cancers. Diesel particulate matter (dust) alone contributes to 125,000 cancers in the US each year.
Contamination can also have psychosocial impacts on residents living near polluting facilities. Perceived contamination can have further psychological and physiological effects, including elevated levels of psychological distress, feelings of perceived threat and subclinical anxiety and depression. The psycho-physiological effects from stress can exacerbate existing stress levels beyond what community residents face in everyday life.
Community residents completed a Community Resilience Mitigation and Prevention Measures Survey to determine if mitigation practices were in place in their community. Examples of some questions on the survey included: Is there an integrated solid waste management plan in your community? Is there a recycling program in your community? Are there incentives for waste prevention? Are there groundwater monitors to detect leakage? Residents learned multiple ways of mitigating and ways of preventing landfill hazards. Upon learning these measures, participants noted that they were not aware of which measures were in place in their community. They also expressed an urgent desire to begin learning more about ways to mitigate the hazards and improve community resilience. Training participants were enlightened and challenged by the information provided to help them make informed decisions to ensure BP and nearby landfills are held accountable for decisions that adversely impact their community. The DSCEJ plans to continue community trainings along the Gulf Coast with neighborhoods receiving BP Deepwater Horizon waste in landfills near their homes.