This newspaper is giving readers whiplash. On June 21, editors stated that Black Lives Matter and that “not enough” is being done to dismantle systemic racism.
Over the last year, reporters have repeatedly documented the tremendous air pollution and greenhouse gas concerns with the Formosa plant and others in Cancer Alley, including a quote from a St. James council member who referred to the siting of the Formosa plant as “environmental racism.” But as of July 21, editors seem ready to dismiss demands from Black Louisianians for protection from polluting industries.
Editors saw “no reason” that this new Formosa plastic mega-plant should not come to Louisiana. But Black community members and allies have demonstrated, commented and signed petitions to sound the alarm: Formosa Plastics has a track record of violating environmental, worker and community safety.
Chemicals released by Formosa into communities — like ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride — are known to cause some of the very illnesses that make people more susceptible to COVID-19. Black communities in Louisiana have been dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than other groups, partly because of exposure to higher levels of environmental toxins.
The middle of a global pandemic is not the time to welcome a massive plastic plant run by a company with a record of harm.
In Illinois, Delaware, Texas and Baton Rouge, communities around Formosa facilities have seen explosions, catastrophic leaks and exposures to toxic substances even after repeated warnings and fines from state and national governments. Environmental destruction and safety violations from Formosa’s operations in Vietnam and Cambodia have triggered protests, litigation and human rights complaints; those in its home country of Taiwan have prompted public resistance to any new Formosa plants there.
St. James Parish officials have heard testimony on Formosa’s violations. They’ve seen pictures and reports from Diane Wilson, who collected evidence to sue Formosa in 2017 for its decimation of fisheries near its Point Comfort, Texas facility. That “serial offender” Formosa plant was releasing plastic pellets into nearby waterways and was penalized $50 million in that lawsuit for continued violations of the Clean Water Act.
Formosa is not a good neighbor. The company’s record does not warrant the stamp of approval that it has received from our government and media. St. James is already full of chemical plants, and this new one would come at too high a price for working people exposed to pollution and risk.
The Advocate editorial board is right: Black lives matter. Making sure Black lives are protected in Louisiana means finding new kinds of jobs for our residents and new ways of life that don’t require our neighbors or ourselves to sacrifice health or safety. We deserve better.
Center for International Environmental Law
SHARON LAVIGNE and GAIL LEBOEUF
RISE St. James