Residents in a neighborhood next to an industrial area in Pascagoula say they’ve experienced medical problems due to pollution from neighboring plants. But the companies say they’re following environmental regulations.
Barbara Weckesser is head of the Cherokee Concerned Citizens, a group that’s been pushing for more oversight of industries located next to their quiet neighborhood, Cherokee Forrest, in Pascagoula.
On Monday she told the Jackson County Board of Supervisors that 94 out of 97 households they surveyed reported loud noises, dust and strong odors. A quarter of residents reported having some kind of respiratory infection. Ten percent of residents have had pneumonia.
Many also reported illnesses and other symptoms, such as "headache, upset stomach, vomiting, excessive mucus, weight loss, watery burning eyes, scratchy itchy throat, fatigue, chronic sinus problems, diagnosed with severe allergies, diagnosed with asthma, diagnosed with acute bronchitis," Weckesser says.
But neighboring companies – which include VT Halter Marine, First Chemical, Mississippi Phosphates and Chevron - say they monitor air emissions and noise and follow state and federal guidelines.
"We have on-site monitoring," says Alan Sudduth, public and government affairs manager for Chevron. "We also have trained staff in the environmental field. We have folks who do testing. We have a real robust environmental process, both on the air and water quality side, and we strive not to just meet the standards that MDEQ and EPA have out there, but get well below them."
"First Chemical operates and maintains our facility so it is safe, secure and acceptable to local communities, and protects the environment," said Cari Field, safety and environmental supervisor for First Chemical Corporation, which is a part of DuPont, said in a statement. "Every employee and contractor at our facility is committed to compliance with all applicable laws and site procedures. We have not had any permit violations at the Pascagoula facility in the last seven years that I have worked here. We work with our stakeholders and the community to continuously improve our operations, emergency preparedness, and the impacts of our activities."
"We have monitors on all our stacks, and we also have monitors around the perimeter to measure for any losses of our constituents that come out of the stack," Wesley Smith, production manager at Mississippi Phosphates, told MPB News at a meeting with residents earlier this summer. The company said it would also install a monitor in the neighborhood.
Weckesser says they'd like to see more disclosure from the companies and regulators of the monitoring reports. She came before the board of supervisors this week to ask for their support as well.
Jackson County supervisor Mike Mangum says the county also responds to calls from the neighborhood.
"We participate with the city on these requests in terms of the air quality issues and the things that are going on out there, to make sure that the proper authorities have the information that they can work with on trying to regulate those things," Mangum said.
Jackson County supervisors took no action at their meeting Monday but did vow to get more involved in the situation.
Karen Kilbern has lived on Cherokee Street since 2006. She says the problems started around 2010.
"By 2012, it was every day, constant, sickening - when you smelled the odoros, it would turn your stomach and burn your throat," she recalls. "The dust in the home became more and more and more."
Kilbern says her young children are experiencing health problems and thinks leaving might be the best option.
"We would like to see a buy-out because I don't see what else they could do," she says. "Without shutting downthe industry, there's no room to put a new buffer zone in. A buy-out would be the best plan to protect the rest of the city, because this isn't just a Cherokee Street problem."
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality said in a statement Monday it hopes to address the neighborhood's concerns by working with local companies to review their monitoring processes and possibly change the way monitoring is done, to make sure emissions aren't affecting neighboring residents.
See the full statement from MDEQ below:
"DEQ does not regulate noise in any manner. However, some cities do have ordinances relating to the regulation of noise.
"DEQ addresses air pollution through a comprehensive State Implementation Plan that is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plan calls for direct monitoring of ambient air pollution, through air monitors such as the one DEQ maintains near the Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. The plan also incorporates federal regulations addressing new, modified, and existing sources of air pollution and implements regulations for the construction and operation of air emission sources. Industries in the Pascagoula area are generally required to submit applications to construct or modify emission sources at their sites. DEQ evaluates the applications to ensure they address all state and federal regulations and then issues a permit to direct the industry about how emission sources must be constructed and operated in order to meet the requirements of the regulations. Permits contain various types of monitoring, record keeping, and reporting to ensure that the industry is complying with the regulations, including any emission limits or operating requirements.
"The neighbors are concerned with possible adverse health and environmental effects due to emissions from nearby industries being transported off site. DEQ hopes to address many of these concerns by working with the industries to perform thorough reviews of the monitoring conducted at each site. The review may result in modifying the approach to monitoring. The goal is to ensure emissions are not adversely affecting the neighboring residents." - Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality