Black La. town latest victim of ‘environmental racism’
19th August 2013 · 0 Comments
By Saeed Shabazz
(Special to the NNPA from The Final Call) – A handful of free Black men and women led by an ex-slave named Jack Moss settled along the rich bio-diverse region of Southwest Louisiana in the late 1800s, and created the town of Mossville, covering 5.4 square miles. In its heyday, Mossville boasted of being home to over 3,000 families; today there are a mere 310 families left.
Mossville has been destroyed by petro-chemical industries such as polyvinyl chloride factories, coal-fired power plants and large oil refineries, according to residents.“We were happy in Mossville, where we could escape the hostilities of racism,” explained Dorothy Felix, 74. “This was our little town—it was the place to be—the way life should be; families were families, and we all shared with everyone,” Ms. Felix told The Final Call.
We were proud of what our forefathers did for us, she said.
“In Lake Charles and the surrounding areas, you had plenty of wild game, fishing, wild fruits and berries; you could live off the land,” stated Delma Bennett, 69, who moved to Mossville 40 years ago. However, he told The Final Call that the last 35-years have been a living hell, because of the petro-chemical plants.
We are now surrounded by 14 of those plants and refineries, and their dioxins have a bad effect on human beings, Mr. Bennett said. “The dioxins, a lot of which goes into the water; we would eat the fish—people started coming up with respiratory problems—children had birth defects,” he explained.
“After a while we noticed that the dioxins had entered our food supply, because they would seem to mix in the air; and every so often there would be explosions that made the dioxin levels worse,” Mr. Bennett explained.
He said that his wife became ill three years ago. “I almost lost her, and they still can’t tell me what’s wrong with her,” he laments.
Ms. Felix and Mr. Bennett belong to MEAN (Mossville Environmental Action Now); Ms. Felix is the organization’s president. “It was devastating to see our friends and neighbors dying—people in their 30s—the government agencies were telling us that it wasn’t the plants killing our people; it was social issues,” Ms. Felix noted.
“The corporations govern us and most of the local politicians work at the plants; so we organized ourselves and started fighting back,” Mr. Bennett said.
“Go there and you can see for yourself the demise of this once thriving, self-sustaining Black community,” states Michele Roberts, organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. I have been working with the people of Mossville since 2007, and they are clearly on the frontline of the ‘Environmental Injustice’ that permeates working poor communities and communities of color across the U.S., she explained to The Final Call.
“Did you know that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has recently de-regulated trash burning to allow tons of plastics and other toxic waste to be burned in coal plants and cement kilns?” Ms. Roberts asked. She argues that this will further exacerbate the air quality problems in Mossville.
“Mossville is the poster child for ‘Environmental Racism’ and Environmental Injustice’ that’s what makes it so unique,” argues Dr. Robert Bullard, Ph.D., Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland school of Public Affairs at Texas Southern Univ. in Houston, Texas.
What is happening in Mossville is so egregious; we had to take the issue before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Bullard who is a world renowned advocate for communities affected by environmental injustice issues told The Final Call.
Attorney Monique Harden, co-director for the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights explained to The Final Call that MEAN filed in March 2005 a petition before the Washington, D.C.-based Interim American Commission of Human Rights at the Organization of American States to have the U.S. brought up on charges of violating the human rights of the people of Mossville.
“I have been working in Mossville since 1996. In 1998-1999 the Centers for Disease Control tested the air and said the dioxin level was three times higher in Mossville than the rest of the nation,” she said, adding, “We found out that this level of pollution was legal according to the EPA.”
In 2009, the EPA concluded that the drinking water from the Mossville community “did not pose a health risk to the residents.” However, the government agency confirmed the public drinking water system in Mossville “needed quality improvements.”
In 2010, the EPA conducted a comprehensive sampling in and around Mossville to determine if the area would be eligible for the National Priority List, which is a ‘Super Fund’ cleanup program.
The agency reported in Jan. 2011 that it did not find elevated levels of chemicals; therefore, Mossville did not qualify for the program. [http://www.epa.gov/region6/6sf/pdffiles/Mossville-ssr-ap]
Ms. Harden said in March 2010, the OAS commission agreed that it was the correct jurisdiction by which to file their petition, and they would hear the Mossville case. “No date for the hearing has been established,” she noted.
The petition asks that the polluters be named in the request for remedies and relief; a relocation program; better health care facilities; a cleanup of polluted areas; a reduction in the pollution; and to change the current system by raising the standards.
This article originally published in the August 19, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.