The sounds of birds chirping and children laughing as they play in New Orleans are signs of peace. Illegal dumping is a plague to this peace and a public health concern. The New Orleans Sanitation Department has allowed discarded and abandoned boats, mattresses, tires, and other waste to accumulate for over a month in an open, wooded public space in my neighborhood in lower Algiers. This is unacceptable. Surveillance, climate change and environmental injustice are key factors that must be addressed to tackle illegal dumping.

More surveillance cameras and warning signs must be installed at and near dumping sites in New Orleans. Cameras and signs that warn of penalties can act as a deterrent to dumpers. Signage would also inform residents on ways to report dumping. Communities must be educated on why proper waste disposal is important for individual and community health. Healthy communities lead to a stronger workforce and a stronger economy for New Orleans.

Harmful chemicals and gases are released into the soil, water, and air from improperly discarded wastes. Disintegrating waste particles harm and can kill birds and animals consuming them as food. Toxic chemicals can seep into drinking water supplies and soil killing and corroding vegetation and crops. Methane gas released from discarded mattresses reduces air quality and contributes heavily to greenhouse gas effect and climate change. Climate change causes extreme changes in climate in short periods of time which increases the chances of frequent potential for disaster as what was experienced by the active hurricane season of 2020. The average cost for a family of four to prepare for a hurricane is approximately $500. Many residents live below the poverty level and do not have the resources to prepare for frequent impending disasters and emergencies.

Environmental injustice must be challenged. Illegal dumping happens more frequently in low-income predominantly African American neighborhoods. Every citizen should have the opportunity to live in neighborhoods that are free of health hazards and wastes. If one part of the community is not healthy, it affects the health of the rest of the community.

The city of New Orleans must find better ways to empower and partner with residents to address illegal dumping in an abrupt fashion. Will, we the people, have to wait until the birds are no longer chirping and the children are no longer able to play outside before we see illegal dumping controlled in our neighborhoods?

DEYA ONSOTTI

former nonprofit executive

New Orleans