They point to alarming new information about cancer risks, company’s failure to comply with promise to protect children and residents, and alert parish about burial grounds of enslaved people
January 22, 2020, St. James, LA – Last night, residents of St. James called on the St. James Parish Council to rescind its decision to allow FG LA, a member of the Taiwanese-based company Formosa Plastics Group, to build a massive chemical facility in a predominantly African-American community. At the Council’s regular meeting, lawyers representing the community group RISE St. James and advocacy organization Louisiana Bucket Brigade pointed to new and alarming information about the proposed complex. Among the issues raised were the levels of cancer-causing chemicals the facility would emit; the company’s failure to follow through on its promise to alter its layout to lessen exposure to school children and residents nearby; and its failure to alert Parish officials and residents of the existence of graves of enslaved people.
In December, RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Earthjustice, and the Center for Constitutional Rights sent letters urging the Council to rescind its decision after recent reports by ProPublica and The Advocate that the area in which Formosa wants to build is already “more toxic with cancer-causing chemicals than 99.6% of industrialized areas of the country.” That reporting included an expert study which showed that if allowed to operate, the plant would “more than triple” the toxic levels of cancer-causing chemicals in an area one mile east of the facility, and double the levels faced by residents across the Mississippi River. Formosa Plastics did not provide this information when the council gave the land use approval in January 2019.
“We continue to fight for our lives against these toxic industries, and now we are fighting for our ancestors too,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of RISE St. James. “They had no choice about where they lived, where they died, or where they were buried, but we are going to fight for the respect that their resting places, and our homes deserve.”
“Formosa Plastics staff have stood before the council and hidden information about its site plan and the burial sites,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “This company has the gall to sponsor black history month celebrations, yet in secret e mails their attorney is eager to dig up the graves and move them. This company's behavior is appalling and disgusting. The parish should run them out now.
Earthjustice and the Center for Constitutional Rights sent letters on behalf of the groups urging the council to rescind its decision to grant the company’s land use application.
“The council approved Formosa Plastic’s land permit application after Formosa told the parish that it had moved units away from the nearby elementary school. It is now clear that Formosa never moved its units. In fact, the ethylene cracker unit and the unit that emits cancer-causing ethylene oxide are located on a portion of the 2400-acrea site closest to the school. Formosa has continued to mislead and downplay the widespread negative impact of its petrochemical complex, a project the community has been fighting against tooth and nail. We’re standing here today with members of that community urging the council to reconsider its decision,” said Corinne Van Dalen, Earthjustice staff attorney.
RISE St. James and the Center for Constitutional Rights also alerted the council to the fact that Formosa Plastics knew of the location of the burial grounds of enslaved people as early as July 2018 and did not notify residents, community groups, or the Parish Council. RISE St. James learned of the burial grounds recently and sent comments to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality last week.
“It is no exaggeration to say that this facility presents an existential threat to the surrounding communities, who have already borne a heavy toxic burden,” said Pam Spees, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “It’s not too late— the council must do the right thing now to prevent irreparable harm in the present and to begin to reckon with the past in ways that honor those who suffered immeasurably in the past under slavery.”
The Parish Council meeting can be watched on RISE St. James’s Facebook page.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.