Pascagoula, Mississippi hosts 12 facilities that report to the federal Toxics Release Inventory, six of which are within a mile-and-a-half radius of the Cherokee Forest Community (2016 Reported toxic release data here). Below is the story of Barbara Weckesser, and her struggle to get out.
“Today, I couldn't sit outside for all the noise. We itch all the time. My eyes burn all the time. People who move here get sick. The children who were unhealthy here move away and seem to get better. My husband’s health conditions have gotten worse here. It has been a nightmare. I’m wondering how quick can I get bought out, and get out of here?”
Over the past couple of years we’ve done all we can think of to document our concerns and share them with the “right people.” We got the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to come in and do some testing. They came out three or four times, and each test shows something in those air canisters, even though none of the tests they did were done the way they were supposed to; they didn’t leave them out for the required 24 hours, and they all came back with stuff in them.
A while ago, Mississippi Phosphates agreed to put in a monitor and within three days it showed that there was sulfuric acid in the air, and two or three days after that, again. Then, for 28 days that the monitor read “over.” MDEQ’s response to me was “Oh, it was turned off. That’s why it read over.” It wasn’t off; the monitor was reporting sulfuric acid. We have all that data. But when MS Phosphates went belly up, that monitor went belly up too. (Mississippi Phosphates closed and their former site is now listed on the Federal Priority List as a Superfund site.)
We keep odor logs. I’ve got a book, it’s about 13 or 14 inches thick, and it’s by the date for when we’ve written odor reports. I’ve also paid for tests myself. We’ve done particulate matter monitoring and have gotten elevated levels, and we’ve paid for bucket air sampling as well. Each time it shows something in it, but each time they say it’s not something that’s going to hurt you. But when you look at the cancer rates around here, and the number of people who have passed away from cancer just in the past year and a half, something is causing it.
Most of the tests we’ve done have been for particulate matter because that was the cheaper test to do, but that doesn’t capture the chemicals. We want to target the pollutants coming from Chevron, and the bucket sampling can do that, but it requires that you take the samples and get them in the mail right away. It’s not easy to do. It’s too time- and energy-intensive, and too expensive.
On permits and public pressure
We’ve gotten our test results in a public meeting on record. I wanted to use it as a way to put pressure on the new mayor. He promised he would get us out of this situation. Let’s see if he holds it up.
MDEQ said “hit them on their permits” and made us all go to permit training. I said sure, I’d love to hit them on their permits, but we can’t take them on on account of their permits because MDEQ hasn’t made them follow through to renew them. Why is our government letting these companies operate without permits, without them being renewed? They’re not bringing these renewals up for public comment, and even when they do, we comment and nothing changes.
On next steps
Here we sit, our hands are tied, and they can pretty much do what they want to unless we can find something that we can bring them all in on. And the one thing we can bring them all in on is health. Right now, we’re working on starting up a health survey with Dr. Wilma Subra. We’re also working with an attorney, but the work he would need to do is really expensive. It would be great to have an inexpensive and easy way to prove these chemicals are in the air here. I would also love to have some legal environmental health advice for what else we can do to bring these companies to the table to say, “Yes, we did that. Yes, we will work with this subdivision to get them out.”