If you drive into Cherokee subdivision, for many days throughout the year, you will not see many children outside playing, nor will you see families gathering outside for birthday parties and barbeques, or retirees sitting on their front porch drinking their morning coffee or working in their gardens. This is because the air makes them sick. Many of the residents, especially children and the elderly, spend most of their time indoors. President of the Cherokee Concerned Citizens, Barbara Weckesser tells MDEQ, “My home has become a prison.”
The residents live near more than ten large facilities located in Pascagoula Industrial Parkway licensed to pollute the air and water. Some of the residents live as close as 500 feet from a facility. The Chevron facility in Bayou Casotte is the largest Chevron facility in the world and is permitted to pollute more than all of the facilities combined. Of these facilities, five of them are currently operating under consent decrees, including Chevron, for illegally releasing toxic pollution in the air and water.
Strong sickening odors can be smelled nearly every day and often cause immediate health effects such as burning eyes, nose, and throat, vomiting, dizziness, headaches. The types, length, and severity of odors vary nearly every day. Sometimes, there is a strong ammonia smell or an oily/gas smell; other times residents report smelling an acidic odor. Dust and paint particles from two nearby shipbuilding facilities are also falling on their cars and even seeping in their homes. Some of the dust found in the home smells of chemicals. Many complain that washing their cars and dusting inside their homes everyday would do little to reduce their exposure because it returns the very next day.
Residents also have good reason to believe the soil is contaminated as well. One resident reported being told after having her soil tested not to eat anything that grows out of the ground. Many residents complain that cutting their grass has become difficult because something in the ground gets stirred up and makes them sick, in some cases vomit. Located near their subdivision are two large spent sulfuric acid piles that have been placed in open air and on wetlands. The three large piles are a byproduct of the phosphates production facility that has now shut down, but the pile remains.
Many of the residents, especially children and the elderly, are experiencing respiratory problems, such as asthma, chronic headaches, sleeplessness, chemical dermatitis, neurological disorders, dramatic weight loss, prolonged sickness, pneumonia, eye, ear, nose and throat problems, and many residents have been diagnosed with various types of cancer.
Citizens are taking matters into their own hands to protect their health
In 2014, Steps Coalition was invited by local residents in Pascagoula to help them organize a campaign to protect public health and their local environment from nearby industrial pollution. With the support of the Steps Coalition, the residents organized and formed a neighborhood group, Cherokee Concerned Citizens (CCC). Since forming, the CCC have met with MDEQ, city and county officials, the EPA, and the Mississippi Department of Health making their case about their environmental and public health concerns. Recently Steps Coalition partnered with Community Science Institute to train the CCC to take their own air samples. This data and other information they collect will be used to document and understand the impacts of the industrial pollution and to advance their advocacy campaign to reduce their exposure to industrial pollution and relocate residents.
- The local media has published over 13 articles raising awareness about the communities’ concerns and the illegal industrial activity. MDEQ has increased compliance visits and has changed Title V permit for Signal International to include a dust control plan and previously omitted federally required language.
- Industry, MDEQ, and EPA are more responsive to the community than they have ever been in the past. Industry, the city of Pascagoula, and MDEQ have agreed to be a part of an air and water quality team that addresses issues specific to the CCC. VT Halter is building an enclosed facility to reduce dust pollution that often escapes their property and makes its way on and inside the property of nearby residents. Mississippi Phosphates has shutdown it fertilizer operations.
- Members of the CCC have been trained to take their own air samples.
What YOU can do to support this campaign
More needs to be done to achieve meaningful change that results in actual reduction in environmental pollution and improved health.
- Take the time to read and share their story.
- Respond to action alerts.
- Make a donation. The money will be used to support the Good Neighbor style Campaign that uses citizen science to hold industry and decision makers accountable to protect human health and the environment. Check out our online fundraiser. Click Here.