"Gather current and former Mossville residents (in Louisiana's "cancer alley") in a room and you're likely to hear a litany of health problems and a list of friends and relatives who died young". (3). In 2014, an article in Mother Jones (2) explained that in 1790, a freed slave named Jim Moss found a place to settle down on a bend in the Houston River in the bayous of southwest Louisiana. Although never formally incorporated, the village of Mossville became one of the first settlements of free blacks in the South. But over the last half century, Mossville was surrounded. More than a dozen industrial plants now encircle the community of 500 residents, making it quite possibly the most polluted corner of the most polluted region in one of the most polluted states in the United States. In 2014 a proposal to build the largest chemical plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere would all but wipe Mossville off the map. The project, spearheaded by the South African chemical giant SASOL, would cost as much as $21 billion. (2). There were already 14 industrial facilities around Mossville, a small community. In 2015 , Christian representatives, using the language of "environmental justice", reported that a "new chemical plant is being built in the small African-American town of Mossville in southwest Louisiana, raising significant concerns about health, safety, and environmental impact. The plant’s owner has offered to pay Mossville residents to move out of their homes and sell their churches. The company says it is being generous, but some longtime residents and religious leaders feel they are being forced out. “The church is the hub of the community, as far as relationships and as far as love and caring for one another,” said the chairman of the deacon board at Mount Zion Baptist Church, Mossville’s oldest house of worship."
A 1998 EPA study had found chemical toxins in the hamlet’s air 100 times higher than the national standard. Another study found that 84 percent of residents had some sort of central nervous system disorder. Its residents at one point appealed to an international court, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on the grounds that the continued pollution of the neighborhood constituted environmental racism. (2).
Indeed, in 2010, the IACHR had agreed to review this case of contamination in Mossville involving allegations of environmental racism. (1). The IACHR heard a complaint filed by the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights(AEHR) on behalf of the people of Mossville, La. An autonomous body of the Organization of American States, the IACHR along with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights comprise the inter-American system for promoting and protecting human rights.
The review would consider whether the U.S. government has violated the predominantly African-American community’s residents’ human rights to life, health, equality, freedom from racial discrimination, and “privacy as it relates to the inviolability of the home” by allowing numerous industrial facilities to locate there and emit millions of pounds of highly toxic chemicals every year. “I am grateful that the Commission decided to take our human rights case,” said petitioner Dorothy Felix, who served as the volunteer vice president of Mossville Environmental Action Now, MEAN). “We believe that environmental protection should not be based on the color of our skin.”(1).
Located near Lake Charles in southwestern Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish, the unincorporated rural community of Mossville is surrounded by 14 industrial facilities that each year spew more than 4 million pounds of highly toxic chemicals to the environment. The pollution includes known carcinogens including dioxin, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, solvents like xylene and toluene, and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Mossville was featured in the 2002 documentary film “Blue Vinyl,” which explores the negative health impacts of polyvinyl chloride production. The area has the largest concentration of vinyl plastic manufacturers in the U.S., as well as a coal-fired power plant, oil refineries and chemical production facilities.
Serious health impacts from the pollution have been documented among Mossville residents by the University of Texas at Galveston Medical Branch and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. A 2007 study showed that the types of dioxin compounds found in the blood of Mossville residents are the same types emitted by the industrial facilities. Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science.(1).
In the late 1990s, Mossville area residents began collecting air samples that revealed violations of state standards for pollutants including vinyl chloride and benzene. The EPA confirmed violations, fining some facilities. The effort spread to communities throughout Louisiana’s so-called “Cancer Alley” and led to the formation of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a grassroots pollution monitoring project. (2).
The petition to IACHR from Mossville residents alleged that the U.S. government and local political subdivisions ignored their obligation to protect human rights by allowing all of these polluting industries to build and operate near Mossville.
In its response, the U.S. government asserted that the IACHR “does not have authority to request that the United States adopt precautionary measures” to prevent communities from being treated like Mossville because such an action is based on commission rules that were not formally approved by the individual countries that belong to the OAS. (1). However, “Our government is a member of the OAS and has also ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which create clear obligations to protect our human right to freedom from racial discrimination whether it is intentional or the result of a policy or action,” said attorney Nathalie Walker, AEHR’s co-director. “However, these obligations are rarely acknowledged by our government, much less upheld.”
Monique Harden, AEHR’s other co-director, noted that Mossville is one of a number of communities of color across the U.S. that are disproportionately burdened with toxic pollution as a result of government decisions.
“The good news is that a judicial review by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can open the door to ending the pattern of environmental racism by introducing a human rights framework for environmental protection,” she said.
The issue of environmental injustice in the U.S. South had been in the spotlight many times. In October 2009, Environmental Justice leaders representing more than a dozen polluted communities from six Southern states met with Environmental Protection Agency leaders and asked them to take action to better protect the health of the region’s low-income communities and communities of color. That meeting came after environmental justice leaders urged the EPA to address historic problems in its Region 4 office covering eight states in the Deep South, with its legacy of racism and unequal environmental protection.