Julie Dermansky's blog

Hurricane Delta Compounds Oil Pollution Left By Hurricane Laura in Louisiana’s Wetlands

Read time: 7 mins
Workers tend to an oil spill in Creole, Louisiana, on October 12 following Hurricane Delta.

Hurricane Delta made landfall in Creole, Louisiana, on October 9 — 13 miles east of where Hurricane Laura struck 43 days before. It touched down in an area packed with oil and gas wells, pipelines, and rigs.

An assessment of how much oil was spilled after Laura had not been made when Hurricane Delta created a new round of destruction along a similar track, from Port Arthur, Texas, to Baton Rouge. 

Hurricane Laura’s Aftermath: Miles of Oil Sheen in Louisiana’s Wetlands

Read time: 8 mins
Road in Cameron Parish with remaining floodwater from Hurricane Laura and surrounded by oil-coated wetlands.

Almost a week after Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana's coast, which is studded with oil and gas industry pipes, tanks, wells, and rigs, I photographed from the sky oil sheen along at least 20 miles of marsh and bayous that absorbed the full strength of the storm. Scientists say warmer ocean waters due to human-caused climate change is making hurricanes like Laura stronger and causing them to intensify more rapidly; Hurricane Laura spun up to a Category 4 storm in just 24 hours.

Pollution Scientist Calls Plastic Pellet Spill in the Mississippi River 'a Nurdle Apocalypse'

Read time: 9 mins
Mark Benfield (right), a professor at Louisiana State University, with Dr. Liz Marchio, a local scientist, collecting nurdles under a wharf in New Orleans on August 25.

Three weeks after a shipping container full of tiny plastic pellets fell into the Mississippi River near New Orleans, cleanup hired by the vessel that lost its cargo stopped shortly after it started as a pair of major storms approached the Gulf Coast. But huge numbers of the pellets, which were made by Dow Chemical and are melted down to manufacture plastic products, still line the river banks in New Orleans and further afield. 

After visiting a couple locations along the river banks affected by the spill, Mark Benfield, an oceanographer and plastic pollution expert at Louisiana State University, estimated that nearly 750 million of these lentil-sized plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, could have been lost in the river.

A Plastics Spill on the Mississippi River But No Accountability in Sight

Read time: 7 mins
Nurdles on the bank of the Mississippi River in Chalmette, Louisiana, on August 9, 2020

When I arrived on Sunday, August 9, scores of tiny plastic pellets lined the sandy bank of the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, Louisiana, where they glistened in the sun, not far from a War of 1812 battlefield. These precursors of everyday plastic products, also known as nurdles, spilled from a shipping container that fell off a cargo ship at a port in New Orleans the previous Sunday, August 2. 

After seeing photographs by New Orleans artist Michael Pajon published on NOLA.com, I went to see if a cleanup of the spilled plastic was underway. A week after the spill, I saw no signs of a cleanup when I arrived in the early afternoon, but I did watch a group of tourists disembark from a riverboat that docked along the plastic-covered riverbank. By most accounts, the translucent plastic pellets are considered pollution, but government bureaucracy and regulatory technicalities are making accountability for removing these bits of plastic from the river’s banks and waters surprisingly challenging.

Disaster Recovery Expert Russel Honoré Decries the Lack of Coordinated Response to COVID-19

Read time: 12 mins
Courtney Baloney removing a flag from the casket of a veteran, who died from the coronavirus, to give to a family member after carefully folding it.

Having no nationwide testing and contact tracing protocol several months into the pandemic is taking its toll in Louisiana, and especially in its predominantly African-American communities in Cancer Alley.

It pains retired Lt. General Russel Honoré to watch the United States lose the war against COVID-19, but it does not surprise him. A federal disaster response expert, Honoré coordinated military relief efforts in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and is credited with restoring order to the city. He has advocated for the federal government to tap the military to set up COVID-19 testing and contact tracing nationwide since the pandemic began spreading rapidly across the United States. 

As Pandemic Toll Rises, Science Deniers in Louisiana Shun Masks, Comparing Health Measures to Nazi Germany

Read time: 10 mins
Woman holding an anti-mask sign at a July 4 “Save America” rally in Baton Rouge.

Science denial in America didn’t begin with the Trump administration, but under the leadership of President Trump, it has blossomed. From the climate crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, this rejection of scientific authority has become a hallmark of and cultural signal among many in conservative circles. This phenomenon has been on recent display in Louisiana, where a clear anti-mask sentiment has emerged in the streets and online even as COVID-19 cases rise.

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