Black communities in Louisiana most exposed to pollution | Environment

Louisiana communities containing industrial plants and high percentages of black residents experienced seven to 21 times more toxic air emissions than similar places with higher percentages of white residents, according to a new study by researchers at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. .

Such discoveries include the 184-mile stretch of the lower Mississippi River from just north of Baton Rouge to Plaquemines Parish, which is often referred to by conservationists and some community residents as “cancer alley.” the highest cancer risk in the nation due to air emissions.

“Our study provides conclusive evidence that communities of color are disproportionately affected by industrial air pollution in Louisiana and that state environmental regulation is the driving force behind this disparity,” concluded the study, which was considered for publication in the scientific journal Environmental Challenges, but is still under peer review.

The study’s lead author, Kimberly Terrell, a research scientist at the forensic clinic, said the study was released now to allow its findings to be used by the EPA in its ongoing civil rights investigation into permits by the departments state standards for environmental quality and health. That investigation is expected to be completed in mid-December, she said.

A new study from the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic found that census tracts in Louisiana with industrial facilities and large black populations had up to 21 times the emissions of similar tracts with industrial facilities and large white populations. The top map shows the highest emissions of volatile organic carbon emissions occurring in census tracts with the highest black populations, while the bottom map shows the lowest emissions in census tracts with the highest white populations. (Tulane Environmental Law Clinic)

In October, EPA sent the two agencies a 56-page “letter of concern” summarizing the agency’s initial findings during its investigation into two civil rights complaints filed in April by environmental and community groups and St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes, some represented by the Tulane Law Clinic. EPA said the two state departments could violate federal civil rights laws and regulations by allowing black people to experience disproportionate impacts from air pollution, including an increased risk of cancer.

One of the practices covered by the new study is the state’s decision not to be more restrictive in regulating industrial air emissions than the EPA’s minimum emission standards. The result is that Louisiana’s industries are not considered major sources of pollution requiring the installation of the best available pollution control technologies unless they emit more than 100 tons of volatile organic compounds annually. Louisiana is joined in claiming that amount by Mississippi, New York and Texas, which have between 42% and 60% Black people in their populations.

But other states adopt a more protective threshold of 50 tons per year, including New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. Terrell pointed out that those states have an overwhelming majority of white populations, between 70 and 93 percent, which she says is another example of disparate impact: more aggressive regulations protecting larger white populations.

DEQ spokesperson Greg Langley said: “We have no comments on this Tulane study, which is under peer review. We are in contact with the EPA and are in discussions with them regarding resolution of any questions about the LDEQ.”

In an April letter to the EPA in response to civil rights complaints from the environmental and community group, DEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown said his agency was “an early pioneer in the environmental justice movement.” He pointed out that a 1994 environmental justice report to the Legislature and subsequent investigations by the state and EPA found that the agency had not acted improperly.

He said the agency also has an internal environmental equity working group that meets regularly to discuss environmental justice and equity issues.

Brown also said the state’s aviation clearance regulatory program receives no funding from the EPA. The language in the EPA rule prohibiting discrimination says it can be applied against “any program or activity that receives assistance from EPA,” Brown said, which means it shouldn’t apply to the state.

The state is accepting EPA funds to help pay for other regulatory programs, including a recent grant to pay for new air emissions monitoring at several locations along the river and elsewhere.

Brown stressed in the letter that his department doesn’t decide where industries are located; such decisions are made by corporations, landowners and local zoning administrators, and city or parish councils. And he also cited these industries’ need for access to raw materials and land and water transportation as key reasons for their location decisions.

The new study, however, concludes that despite industrial census tracts having equal access to such resources, the state’s regulatory system results in higher emissions for tracts with higher percentages of Black residents.

He examined every census tract containing industry across the state and determined that the difference in the level of emissions in black communities was related neither to the infrastructure nor to the labor supply needed by the industry. Similar access to river transportation, pipelines and railroads carrying raw materials to industrial sites, and access to industrial workers were equally available in both census tracts with high levels of black residents and high levels of white residents, the study he detected.

The study also found that at least one industrial facility was located in 22 percent of state census tracts, and that those tracts were more likely to contain an industrial facility if they were intersected by a railroad or petrochemical pipeline, bordered the lower Mississippi River, or they had relatively large percentages of their workforce, above 10%, employed in manufacturing. The percentage of residents of black people residing in industrial census tracts was similar to or lower than the state average of about 42%, except for those with railroads, which had a slightly higher percentage.

Eight clusters of industrial census tracts accounted for nearly two-thirds of tracts with industry, including lower, middle, and upper industrial corridors along the Mississippi River, Denham Springs, Lafayette, Vermilion Bay, Sterlington, and Lake Charles. The industrial corridor of the river was defined as 184.1 river miles from the Big Cajun II Power Plant in Pointe Coupee Parish north to the Chevron Oronite Co. LLC Oak Point Plant in Plaquemines Parish.

“LDEQ’s pollution inventory reveals a racial disparity that cannot be explained by industrial infrastructure,” said study co-author Gianna St. Julien, also an environmental researcher at the law clinic. “The root cause is clear: a discriminatory permit targeting overburdened communities of color for a new and expanding industry.”


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