I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Edgar Mouton, Jr., a leader and former president of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN).

Mr. Edgar Mouton. Photo: Jay Burney

Mr. Mouton was an inspiration to me as a fighter for environmental justice.

A lifelong resident of Mossville, Louisiana, Mr. Mouton fought passionately and diligently against the PVC plastics and petrochemical industry in his community, which has been spewing poisonous chemicals into the air and water of his community.  Cancer-causing chemicals like dioxin and vinyl chloride.

Words of an environmental justice hero.

Mr. Mouton was humble yet extremely persistent.  He fought for his community for many, many years.  He was outraged by the dioxin and vinyl chloride pollution that was getting into residents’ yards, chickens, homes, and their bodies.  Portions of the community were relocated and demolished due to groundwater contamination from a nearby PVC plant.

He wouldn’t let them get away with this.

In 2000, Mr. Mouton and other leaders from Mossville traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to testify at a US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting.  At that meeting, he said:

“As I grew up in Mossville, I remember when the plants were built as a child. My father helped build a lot of those plants. It is terrible. We had beautiful green woods around us and we did all the fishing that we ever wanted. But they did not care anything about that. And that is the same thing today.

“People are sick and dying in our community because of the high levels of dioxins found in our blood…We have a lot of people sick. There’s a lot of people with some type of illness, lungs, or some with cancer that I know of. There’s a lot of sick people there that thedoctors don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

“They seem continually to stall, for some reason or another. They give us the impression that we do not know what our needs and wants are. They want to run the show; they want to take control.”

At the same time Mossville residents were seeking justice, the polluters themselves were infiltrating and spying on the community.

From Buffalo to Mossville

Mr. Mouton leading us on a toxic tour. Photo: Jay Burney

I met Mr. Mouton back in 2004 when PVC manufacturer CertainTeed was proposing to build a PVC plant on the Lake Erie waterfront in Buffalo, NY where I lived.  We knew CertainTeed’s primary PVC plant was just outside Mossville, and that’s how I had the pleasure of working with and meeting Mr. Mouton.

I led a delegation of environmental health activists to travel from Buffalo to Mossville, to bear witness to the pollution the PVC plastics industry was leveling on this historic African American community.  Mr. Mouton and other leaders of MEAN welcomed us into their community with open arms, introducing us to families, taking us on toxic tours, holding a joint press conference, and even throwing down with us at a crawfish boil.  You can read about the trip in this newsletter article I wrote back in 2004 (see page 8).

I’ll never forget that trip visiting Mr. Mouton, Mossville and the Lake Charles area.  It stays with me every day.

Broken promises, and the struggle continues.

“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” – Mother Jones

I’ve always been inspired by these words of Mother Jones.  And I like to think that Mr. Mouton would agree.  He’d want to see the struggle continue, until justice is served.

Over 12 years since Mr. Mouton spoke out at that meeting in Atlanta, and over 8 years since I traveled to Mossville to go on a toxic tour around CertainTeed and Mossville, CertainTeed is on the minds of Mossville residents once again.

“We’re being hit from the north, south, east, and west. Every time the wind changes, we get a lungful of pollution from some other plant. These chemicals end up in our water, our gardens, our children’s bodies. Each day we hear about someone in our community being diagnosed with cancer or another illness. We’re taking legal action so that we might live to see some improvements for ourselves and our community.” – Mr. Mouton, former President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Over the past decade, MEAN, Earthjustice and other groups have taken EPA to court numerous times, and won! As a result of their work, the EPA  agreed and promised to clamp down on pollution from PVC chemical plants like CertainTeed in Mossville.

Unfortunately, the EPA has now broken their promises to this community, which flies in the face of the EPA’s commitment to environmental justice.  The EPA has set stronger emission standards for PVC plants in other communities, but weaker ones in Mossville, home to more than PVC plants than anywhere else in the country!

That’s why this week, MEAN, Earthjustice, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and other groups are fighting back once again.  They’ve filed a petition and lawsuit demanding EPA reduce toxic pollution from the CertainTeed plant.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation.  EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”- Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson owes this community justice.  She owes it to Mr. Mouton’s family.

RIP Mr. Mouton.  We will miss and never forget you.   The struggle continues.