Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)
Mossville, Louisiana residents, surrounded by more vinyl chemical plants than anywhere else in the United States, may finally see some justice after many years of organizing and campaigning for a healthier future.
Late last week, chemical giant Sasol announced plants to fund a relocation of Mossville residents who are interested in moving from their homes and from the pollution, as the company is attempting to expand their operations by building a giant ethane cracker and gas to liquids petrochemical plant. Residents have been fighting for relocation since at least the 1990’s – so this is nothing short of huge news for this impacted environmental justice community.
“A Sasol representative announced plans to introduce the Voluntary Property Purchase Program in Mossville,” says Mossville resident Dorothy Felix, with Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN). “We have been advocating for relocation for years and know that the only way the plan can work is to meet the needs of Mossville residents, who suffer from industrial pollution that make us sick and ruin the value of our homes.”
Sasol plans to build and operate the industrial facilities on a site near Mossville that takes up an estimated three square miles. Ever since Sasol’s proposed expansion was announced last year, Mossville residents have renewed their calls for relocation. The company has been buying up property in the area to secure their expansion, including an old elementary school and church.
Sasol boasts that the “estimated cost is between $16 and $21 billion” which represents “the largest single manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and one of the largest foreign direct investment manufacturing projects in U.S. history.”
Sasol has not made public the estimated pollution increase or potential risk of a hazardous accident from the proposed plants.
Not the first relocation in Mossville – will it be the last?
Mossville residents are surrounded by an alarming number of chemical plants that spew dangerous pollutants like the carcinogens vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, and dioxin. I traveled there in 2004 and was shocked by the environmental devastation I witnessed, but also inspired by the community members fighting back.
In the 1990’s, many homes in Mossville were relocated after a gigantic ethylene dichloride (EDC) chemical spill was discovered traveling throughout the community, contaminating the groundwater underneath people’s homes. A jury had found the PVC company responsible for contamination liable for “wanton and reckless disregard of public safety” and was charged with dumping a staggering amount of poisons – an estimated 19-47 million pounds of EDC, a suspected human carcinogen. EDC is used to make vinyl plastic, such as children’s lunchboxes and flooring in our schools and homes.
Dorothy Felix (pictured above) and members of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) have been fighting for a healthy community and relocation for years, and was featured in a major expose by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN a few years ago, as well as in the award-winning documentary Blue Vinyl. Now, they may finally achieve the relocation so many residents have been clamoring for.
Will this relocation be the final one for this community? Will the company truly make the residents whole? What will be the terms of the buy-out? These any many other questions remain unanswered, for now at least. You’ll be sure we and many allies across the nation will be paying attention.
“Environmental health and environmental justice groups from all over the United States and the world are watching what happens in Mossville,” declares Michele Roberts, with Environmental Health and Justice Alliance, “And we will stand by the people of Mossville until they are safely out of harms way from toxic chemical contamination.
History of chemical industry buy-outs in Louisiana
Mossville is not an isolated incident, but yet another example of how the petrochemical industry has contaminated neighbors. Over the past thirty years, a number of other communities around Louisiana have been relocated by the petrochemical industry. Some notable examples of vinyl industry relocations include:
- In 2003, in Plaquemine, Louisiana, a trailer park development was relocated after being contaminated by vinyl chloride groundwater contamination, but only after women suffered from an abnormal number of miscarriages in the tainted area. Residents had been drinking contaminated water for at least five years.
- Reveilletown, Louisiana was once a small African-American town adjacent to a PVC facility owned by Georgia-Gulf. In the 1980s, after a groundwater toxic plume of vinyl chloride began to seep under homes, Georgia-Gulf agreed to permanently evacuate the entire community of one hundred and six residents. Reveilletown has since been demolished.
- Management at Dow Chemical’s neighboring PVC factory followed suit soon afterwards, buying out all of the residents of the small town of Morrisonville.
More recently in 2002, the Concerned Citizens of Norco achieved a historic victory after Shell Oil agreed to relocate community members after years of fighting for justice.
Mossville residents and their allies are now hoping to leverage the lessons from the Shell relocation in Mossville.
“Our prior work on a successful community relocation offer between the Diamond community of Norco and the Shell Corporation in 2000 provides important lessons on how a community and an industrial company can reach agreement on future industrial operations, the terms for relocation offers, and programs for community improvements,” explains Monique Harden, attorney with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR), which represents Mossville residents and MEAN in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that charges the U.S. Government with violating human rights by permitting toxic industrial releases in and around Mossville.
We’ll be watching and will do all we can to support the Mossville residents in their fight for justice.