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Shintech PVC Plant in Convent, LA, USA


Description

In 1996, Shintech, a Japanese subsidiary of Shin Etsu, proposed to build a $700 million polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in Convent, Louisiana. The plant would consist of three chemical factories and an incinerator. Convent is a dominantly African American community where more than 40% of its population falls below the poverty line. Convent is part of St. James Parish (counties in Louisiana are called parishes), located in the heart of what has become known as 'Cancer Alley'. Cancer Alley is the 85-mile stretch area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans where over 140 petrochemical and other industrial plants are located.

This concentration has resulted in higher rates of cancer and other medical problems impacting local communities.

St. James Parish is considered by the Environmental Defense Fund to be one of America's 25 most polluted counties. It is home to over eight chemical plants, which emitted 17 million pounds of toxic emissions in 1995. The people of St. James Parish are already overburdened with toxic emissions. The Shintech PVC plant would emit an additional 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals and 6.8 million gallons of wastewater into the Mississippi River each year. Chemical discharges into the water would include benzene, methyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride and ethylene dichloride. The Mississippi River is the source of water for many Louisiana cities including New Orleans.

On September 17, 1998, and after two years of intense community activism, Shintech announced that it would not build a PVC plant in Convent. Instead, Shintech plans to build a smaller, $250 million PVC plant in nearby Plaquemine. Shintech withdrew permit applications for St. James Parish when the Plaquemine site was approved.

Basic Data

NameShintech PVC Plant in Convent, LA, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceLouisiana
SiteConvent
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Chemical industries
Other industries
Specific CommoditiesPvc
Chemical products

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsThe plant would have emitted an additional 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals and 6.8 million gallons of wastewater into the already highly contaminated Mississippi River each year.
Project Area (in hectares)690
Level of Investment (in USD)700,000,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population2,500-3,000
Start Date1996
End Date09/1998
Company Names or State EnterprisesShintech from United States of America - subsidiary of Shin Etsu
Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. Ltd from Japan
Relevant government actorsUSEPA, Louisiana DEQ
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSt. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment (SJCJE); Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic (TUELC);

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Sampling the water, travelling to Japan to talk to officials

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNegotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of AlternativesCitizens from Convent used several strategies after Shintech's proposal. First, citizens attended public hearings to me sure their voices opposing this proposal where heard and considered. After that, this community organization filed complaints with the EPA under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. A media campagin included bringing support from political and religious leaders, as well as celebrities.

More high-profile actions included collecting water samples from the river and presented them to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Emelda West, a local resident of 80 years of age, also made numerous trips to talk to officials about the dangers the PVC plant would produce. One of those trips was to Tokyo, Japan where she talked to Shin Etsu's president and CEO, Chihiro Kanagawa. She took with her a package of letters and petitions from 1,150 St. James Parish residents voicing their opposition to Shintech's plant.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.On September 17, 1998, and after two years of intense community activism, Shintech announced that it would not build a PVC plant in Convent. Instead, Shintech plans to build a smaller, $250 million PVC plant in nearby Plaquemine. Shintech withdrew permit applications for St. James Parish when the Plaquemine site was approved. The plant in Plaquemine was cheaper because Shintech pumps in raw materials like chlorine and vinyl chloride from a nearby Dow Chemical plant, instead of producing the raw materials themselves. It's hard to define whether this is as a success for environmental justice principles.

Sources and Materials

Legislations

President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice

References

Collin, R. 'The Environmental Protection Agency' 2006

Cole, L. and Foster, S. 'From the Ground Up', New York University Press 2001

Hines, Revathi (2001). African Americans' Struggle for Environmental Justice and the case of the Shintech Plant, Journal of Black Studies vol 31 no. 6

Bullard, Robert D. "Dismantling environmental racism in the USA." Local Environment 4.1 (1999): 5-19.

Blodgett, Abigail D. "An analysis of pollution and community advocacy in ‘cancer alley’: Setting an example for the environmental justice movement in St James Parish, Louisiana." Local Environment 11.6 (2006): 647-661.

Links

Corpwatch, Environmental Racism
http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=989

Media Links

Rose Ann Rousell, Emelda West and Gloria Roberts (left to right) work with St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment, and have so far kept an enormous PVC plastics plant out of Convent.

© Elaine Osowski, 1998
http://www.ejnet.org/ej/0798_feat1c.jpg

Other Documents

March against the plant Source: Shintech in 1996 proposed a PVC plant in Convent, La. Community backlash, however, prompted the company to pull the plug on the project three years later. Photo: CorpWatch, San Francisco

http://www.siteselection.com/ssinsider/snapshot/sf050131.htm
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/sf050131e.jpg

Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan

Meta Information

ContributorAlejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update08/07/2015

Images

 

March against the plant

Source: Shintech in 1996 proposed a PVC plant in Convent, La. Community backlash, however, prompted the company to pull the plug on the project three years later. Photo: CorpWatch, San Francisco http://www.siteselection.com/ssinsider/snapshot/sf050131.htm