Julie Dermansky's blog

Activists Find Evidence of Formosa Plant in Texas Still Releasing Plastic Pollution Despite $50 Million Settlement

Read time: 8 mins
Diane Wilson kayaking along the banks of Cox Creek near Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas plastics plant

On the afternoon of January 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas. After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region’s waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.   

The Plastics Giant and the Making of an Environmental Justice Warrior

Read time: 23 mins
Sharon Lavigne holds a sign that says 'Stop Formosa'

This report was produced as part of ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Fellowship.

On the evening of January 6, Louisiana state regulators issued 15 key permits to the Taiwanese petrochemical corporation Formosa for its $9.4 billion plastics manufacturing complex proposed for the historically black area of St. James Parish. Word spread today about the approvals, which pave the way for the project’s construction, opposed by local and national environmental advocates.

Sharon Lavigne, a demure, 67-year-old recently retired special-ed teacher born and raised in St. James Parish, cried when she heard the news. Her community along the Mississippi River is already saddled with petrochemical plants and oil storage tanks, which release known carcinogens into the air that she fears are making her and her family sick.

I spoke to Lavigne, who has tirelessly fought the project since the fall of 2018, just after news broke of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (LDEQ) decisions for Formosa.

From the BP Spill to a Disappearing Island: A Decade of Covering Climate and the Environment in Louisiana

Read time: 7 mins
Cemetery next to the Marathon Refinery, in Reserve, Louisiana, in the heart of Cancer Alley

What happens in Louisiana doesn’t stay in Louisiana. The state's role in the oil and gas industry impacts both global markets and global climate change. It’s also on the front line of climate change impacts due to sea level rise and is vulnerable to storm systems intensified by global warming. Here is a selection of photos from a decade of my coverage of environmental issues in Louisiana.

The decade started with the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The impacts from the BP oil spill are still taking a toll on the environment, and a number of people exposed to the oil and the dispersant used to break up the oil continue to fight the company for compensation due to their health claims.

2019 in Photos: Impacts from Environmental Rollbacks and the Growing Climate Activism

Read time: 7 mins
Christmas tree on tombstone in cemetery near coal power plant

Here is a selection of photos I shot for DeSmog in 2019, another year when arguably not enough collective action was taken to protect the planet from global warming. 

Throughout 2019 the Trump administration continued to roll back environmental standards. Meanwhile, advocacy groups and activists ramped up the battle for clean air and water and a livable climate. 

Texas Petroleum Chemical Plant Explosion, And Our Petrochemical 'Collective Suicide'

Read time: 5 mins
A sign in Port Neches, Texas, on Thanksgiving, with smoke billowing from the TPC plant explosion in the background. 

A plume from the Texas Petroleum Chemical (TPC) plant hung over Port Neches, Texas on Thanksgiving as emergency workers continued to fight the fire following explosions at the plant on November 27. A mandatory evacuation that called for 60,000 people within a four-mile radius from the plant to leave their homes the day before the holiday was lifted yesterday. 

However, officials warned that returning residents be aware of the plume’s location because elevated levels of particulate matter associated with the plume near the plant could be “harmful to sensitive groups,” and direct exposure could result in respiratory irritation.

Pennsylvania Communities Grow Wary of Worsening Air Pollution as Petrochemical Industry Arrives

Read time: 9 mins
Shell Petrochemical Complex under construction in Beaver County, Pennsylvania

While the Ohio River Valley, long home to the coal and steel industries, is no stranger to air pollution, the region’s natural gas boom and burgeoning petrochemical industry threaten to erase the gains of recent decades. Concerns about air quality, which has already begun declining nationally since 2016, are growing rapidly for those living in the shadow of Shell’s $6 billion plastics plant under construction along the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania’s Beaver County.

Residents and activists from the greater Pittsburgh area fear that worsening air quality will lower the value of homes, deter new clean business development, and sicken people.

“It is not lost on us that Allegheny Health Network is building a cancer institute directly above the cracker plant at the Beaver County Mall,” Matt Mehalik, executive director of the advocacy group Breathe Project, said at a November 6 public meeting about the Shell plastics plant, also known as an “ethane cracker.” “There is a certain degree of sick irony about that.”

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