Louisiana: Home Sweet Home 

If you read only one thing today, let this be it.

Today, let’s look beyond a life in Louisiana filtered through the rose colored glasses of traditions marked by food, family, and fun. Let’s ask ourselves what life in Louisiana is all about on a day to day basis. Because life in Louisiana is not all crawfish boils, football games, and Mardi Gras.

At a time when environmental regulations and healthcare are simultaneously being taken away, what does that truly mean for those of us living in Louisiana? After all, we are more than “Sportsman’s Paradise”, we are Cancer Alley. The following article describes what life is like in places like Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Bossier City, Colfax, Reserve, New Roads, Mossville, St James Parish, Belle River, Diamond, and others. From one side of the state to the other, we are all effected by this.

Reality in Louisiana looks like this: Schools built on toxic dump sites. Water worse than Flint. Our air and streets being filled with dioxins (used in making chemical weapons), creosote, arsenic, lead, radioactive strontium, chloroprene, and too many others to name (and some we probably aren’t even aware of yet.) Cities where cancer rates are 40x that than the rest of the nation. Birth defects, miscarriages, stillbirths, and infertility. People unable to leave their homes for fear of exposure. An impact on our fishing industry and the health of the animals we are hunting and consuming.

We are consistently unknowingly being poisoned by exposure to carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disrupters, teratogens, and mutagens. It’s easy to look at those words and gloss over the impact of what those words mean, so please let those words sink in. Our swamps have been injected with industrial waste since the mid-80’s and our plants release chemicals and toxins at hundreds of times the regulated rates. Our life here is “a toxic open-air chemistry experiment next to human beings, and their backyards and schools and churches.”

And all of it is done for the profit of companies at our expense. Companies, might I add, that operate under the industrial tax exemption plan and rob our state of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue (but I’ll do that blog post another time). And I get it. My dad, like many others in Louisiana, works in oil and natural gas. Oil and Natural Gas has provided financially for my family. In reality, everything I am sharing is a result of things very personal to me and many others in our state. This is not about attacking big corporations, this is about the reality of the situation and what it means for us. This is about how we move forward from where we are.

Below are some key points to an in depth discussion about the issues listed above. Yes, this is a lengthy and more time consuming read. The information provided so far has given you a small overview, but there is much more to the conversation. The rest of this post includes 8 statements taken from this article. While you may not have time at the moment to read it in its entirety (because it is long), I hope you at least save the original article to come back to later, because this is one of the most important things you will read about life in Louisiana.

Because one woman’s statement sums up our crisis best. “I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve seen die.” And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our life has been impacted by this. We smell it, we feel it. We all know many diagnosed with cancer and we’ve seen our children get sicker. We all know this exists, we just might not have recognized it fully yet.

So please continue reading below…

“A few blocks past the Superdome—you’ll find a school being constructed on an old waste dump. ‘All the toxins from the landfill are still there,’ says toxicologist Wilma Subra. These toxins include lead, mercury, and arsenic, exposure to which can lead to reproductive damage, and skin and lung cancer. Even more astonishing, Subra says hundreds of schools across Louisiana have been built on waste dumps. Why? Dumps represent cheap land often already owned by a cash-strapped town or city, plus serve as rare high ground in a flood-prone state. And this is just the beginning of Louisiana’s nightmare.”

“If you think the situation in Flint is bad, there are approximately 400 public water systems in Louisiana with lead or other hazardous substances leaching into the drinking water. Meanwhile, hundreds of petrochemical plants peppered across the state’s lush swampy interior freely emit carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxins into the air and water, as well as inject them deep into the earth.”

“Activities too toxic for other parts of America are regularly shuttled to Louisiana, often at the eager request of the state’s politicians. ‘Louisiana,’ says the General [Honore], ‘is a dumping ground.'”

“In the 1970s, notoriously corrupt Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards (he spent eight years in federal prison on racketeering charges) invited, ‘all these industries to relocate to Louisiana,’ Subra says. ‘He granted them benefits and permits that weren’t restrictive, the corporations came and these facilities just operated however they wanted.’ When neighboring communities began complaining about bad air and water, the petrochemical companies—as is presently happening in Mossville—began buying them out.”

“With natural gas presently booming in the U.S., Cancer Alley is buzzing with activity. Earlier this year Houston-based Yuhuang Chemical, a subsidiary of China-based Shandong Yuhuang Chemical broke ground on a massive methanol plant in St. James Parish, in the middle of Cancer Alley and right beside the community of St. James. Following the American way, Yuhuang simply bought the town. The plant, to be completed next year, will cook natural gas into methanol, used as the feedstock in many plastics. ‘The process creates so much pollution,’ says Subra, ‘that they can’t even do this in China.'”

“Taylor was born in Reserve and remembers when DuPont began neoprene production in 1969, and the unexplainable wave of sickness and death that followed. Production of neoprene—dive wetsuits, insulated lunch boxes, beer koozies—emits toxic chloroprene, and this is the only plant in America that produces it… One of his main concerns is the Fifth Ward Elementary School, which borders the plant, and where just this past January chloroprene concentrations in the air were recorded at 332 times the federal guidelines. ‘If we can commit an act of war against another country for chemically poisoning their children,’ says Taylor, ‘how can we stand by and do nothing when chemicals are poisoning our own children?… It has a real and immediate effect on you, the kids know to look out for it. They’ll be outside playing basketball and run in with their eyes and throat burning. Your chest starts hurting, you start breathing differently.'”

“The industries in these community (sic) become partners in education and have total control over the topics that are taught. If you have a student who wants to do a project about plant emissions, they get told, ‘No.’ And the school board members need money to run for election, and where do you think their money comes from…? Louisiana is intentionally raising a generation devoid of the knowledge necessary to comprehend their own toxic situation. Not only is the state poisoning its people, but it is taking away their means of being able to understand that they are being poisoned. And it doesn’t stop there. Louisiana State University and many reputable institutions across America receive large sums of money from the petrochemical industry, so who, Subra asks, is going to do the research that actually critiques these corporations?”

“If you want to tell us that to have plastics in hospitals and gas in your Subaru and neoprene scuba suits poor people in Louisiana will need to get cancer and lose their lungs and raise sick children, then fine, give us an honest calculation, tell us how many people will be killed, how many years shaved off these children’s lives. But don’t tell us there is no other way, don’t darken our horizons from the start and try to convince us that a society that rocketed human beings through the black hell of space and landed them on the moon cannot run its vehicles on a new fuel and make materials without chemicals whose production maims and kills people.”

Click here to read the full article these statements were taken from 

Click here to see the photo gallery from the 2017 Baton Rouge Science March

Disability Rights: What today’s protest teaches us

We always say we are only as strong as our weakest link, if I were to apply that to American society and disabilities “weakest” would simply mean most physically vulnerable. It would certainly not mean lacking in strength or force or influence, because if there is anything I have learned from persons with disabilities it is how to fight. In fact, they’re literally the ones who taught me how to fight. Like most, I didn’t realize the issues surrounding special needs and disabilities until it became my own reality with the diagnosis of my oldest child with autism. That was what truly spurred my activist heart into motion. And my training came from online forums where I was introduced to real life warriors.

One thing that certainly didn’t shock me by this protest was the fierceness of the protestors. Make no mistake, their bodies may seem fragile, but their spirits and voices soar. While many watching may have been caught off guard that such a physically vulnerable group would put themselves at risk, I was not. This is the way it works in activism. Those privileged enough to not have to fight frequently don’t, leaving the vulnerable exposed as they fight for their very lives. And, with a sense of pride, I cheered them on as they were dragged from their chairs and continued to shout. “SHOW THEM HOW STRONG YOU REALLY ARE!” I hope and pray that their fight did not go in vain as too many fights do.

(This certainly was not the first time there have been protests and arrests of persons with disabilities. This story is from March.)

Today, as I watched footage of protestors with disabilities being removed from Mitch McConnell’s office my heart broke. Not because I felt any more emotion for persons of disabilities than I do for other protestors, but because the way they were handled showed a complete and utter lack of respect for personhood and a complete lack, yet again, of respect for protest. A few points may have been lost and may seem like sympathy for “weaker” persons. Make no mistake this is not what this is. Just because a person has a wheelchair or an oxygen mask makes them no less able to utilize their rights of free speech and protest. This is not about sympathy, this is about the overarching treatment of all protestors.

This is about the fact that a wheelchair (or a cane or any other type of medical equipment) is an extension of a person. Remember the story of this school that tried to take away the cane of a blind student as punishment? They, essentially, removed his eyes. His cane was not just an accessory, it was how he was able to see. Equally, the officers removing persons from wheelchairs and carrying them off is akin to cutting off the legs of an able-bodied protestor so they will be easier to handle. It is unacceptable. Yes, even able-bodied protestors are carried out, and that is a dehumanizing enough act, but what did they do with these persons once they were removed into police custody and were robbed of their ability to sit or stand?

Were these protestors simply lined up on the ground with no caregivers and no ability to move themselves? Were their vitals monitored? Did they receive proper services like interpreters for the deaf or hard of hearing? Were they immediately given access to lawyers (knowing many may have had mental disabilities) or were they questioned and left to legally hang themselves? We know that the most vulnerable among us is rarely cared for properly, we know that even able-bodied protestors are frequently treated worst of all (being locked in dog cages, being denied feminine hygiene products, etc.) so none of these questions fall beyond the scope of reason. Were they handled properly by the police?

But the most disturbing thing of all was that they were treated in such a way over speaking out about healthcare. How is it that when they were there to have their voices heard over being treated fairly in regards to their health, to remain protected and safe, that they were removed in such a manner? Is there something so threatening about a group of people in a hallway holding signs and chanting? This was an order that the Senate Majority Leader made in response to his constituents. Is there a way for us to really have our voices heard or will we consistently be dragged (literally) for trying? It truly makes no sense that those obviously in need of healthcare and most impacted would be shut down by those making the decision.

I mean, call me an idealist, but wouldn’t they be invited in to the table of those supposedly representing them?

But so far we haven’t been able to address education (in Louisiana, Cassidy specifically ignored letters, petitions, phone calls, and those gathering in his office) and people were even villainized for using their voices at townhalls after being ignored for so long. So far, gatherings about the Bayou Bridge pipeline (including our crawfishing industry, homeowners, scientists, and flood victims) have been ignored in all decisions regarding the project. And we all know that there has yet to be a true space devoted to the community speaking out about Alton Sterling or desires for police reform. When do we say enough is enough and community participation MUST be protected? Are we going to let them arrest everyone?

It’s easy to look at a group of protestors with disabilities and feel a lot of shock and sympathy and rage and fear over their treatment. But let’s not forget that this is how protestors (and citizens simply using their rights to assembly and free speech) are treated in America. This is how Native Americans are treated when their lands are targeted for unwanted pipelines. This is how African Americans are treated when they stand up for justice for the dead men and women in their community. This is how the LGBTQ community is treated when they stand up and speak for marriage and bathroom rights. This is how the Muslim community is treated when they want to travel. It is always the vulnerable among us treated in such a way.

Baton Rouge Science March

On Saturday, April 22, 2017, over 400 people marched to the capitol voicing support for science, science funding, and science based policy. They held teach-ins and several guest speakers shared the importance and necessity of science in our communities. This is what protest looks like.