Dust and paint particles containing toxic levels of metals often make its way to the resident's homes landing on their cars, houses, seeping inside their houses, and likely into their lungs. In addition, nearly every day residents complain of moderate to strong odors that often have immediate health impacts, such as burning eyes, throats, nausea, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, and numbing of the lips and hands. Many are experiencing long-term health impacts, such as respiratory problems, chronic colds, chemical dermatitis, sinus, weightloss, sleeplessness, anxiety, thyroid issues, asthma, and neurological disorders. Also of the 130 households in the subdivision (a few of which are empty), there have been 30 known cases of cancer with seven active cases located within blocks of each other. The odors sometimes last for just a few minutes and other times keep them imprisoned in their homes for a week. During Christmas last year 2015, residents reported being stuck inside all week because the odors were so strong "they would knock you out." They feel trapped. Some of them have been told by their doctors to move out of the neighborhood, but for many, this is not possible. Mrs. Tran explains, "my home is not a box. I cannot just pick it up and move." Mrs. Weckesser, president of Cherokee Concerned Citizens shared with me that the neighborhood was here first and industry has continued to expand over the years making living near them more and more unbearable. Her house has lost its value, and she cannot knowingly rent out her home to another family because she knows she will be exposing them to the toxic pollution.
In the last year, the Cherokee Concerned Citizens have met with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), the Environmental Protection Agency, every large industrial facility, the Mississippi Department of Health, the Pascagoula City Council, the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and the Local Emergency Planning Commission. The residents tell me that they feel talking to all of these groups is getting them nowhere. None of the facilities want to accept responsibility, each pointing the finger at another, and MDEQ may fine them for a violation (5 of the facilities are operating under consent decrees for violating the Clean Air and Water Act) or change their permit, but these facilities are still polluting and releasing toxins that they breathe in everyday. For the residents, it is frustrating that they don't know what it is they are breathing and can't point to the industry that is making them sick.
In September of 2015, Steps Coalition partnered with Community Science Center to train the residents to take their own air samples so that they can find out for themselves. Fifteen residents were trained and so far six samples have been taken. Four of the samples came back with toxic levels of metals above World Health Organization standards found in the particulate matter that blows into the neighborhood. More samples need to be taken to be able to identify all that they are experiencing. However, each sample costs $250-$500. This is why the Cherokee Concerned Citizens needs your help to raise more money.
It truly has been a privilege to work with the Cherokee Concerned Citizens the last year. I have seen first hand a group of residents who really did not know each other very well come together and bravely stand up for themselves, their family, and their community to expose their truth to a broader community that has for too long let industry get away with polluting their air and water and compromise their health and sustainability of the entire community.
The Cherokee Concerned Citizens need your help! Will you stand with them? Click Here to Make Your Donation Today!
Using the StoryCorps.me techonology, I sat down with a few residents to listen to their experiences living in Cherokee subdivision. Listen to their stories and learn why they need your support!