Julie Dermansky

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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.”

With Coal’s Decline, Pennsylvania Communities Watch the Rise of Natural Gas-fueled Plastics

Read time: 9 mins
Cemetery angel next to closed Bruce Mansfield Coal Plant and Beaver Valley Nuclear Plant

For Beaver County, just northwest of Pittsburgh, the construction of Royal Dutch Shell’s towering new plastics factory overshadows the closure of the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, the state’s largest coal power station, located along the same stretch of Ohio River in western Pennsylvania. 

The juxtaposition of these two projects, in which one powerful fossil fuel supply rises as the other falls, reflects the broader pattern of changing energy sources in America. A growing chorus agrees the expansion of the natural gas industry, which feeds plastics and petrochemical plants like Shell’s, is moving the U.S. in the wrong direction to prevent catastrophic impacts from climate change.

Environmental Justice Activists Arrested Amid Growing Concerns Over Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Pollution

Read time: 9 mins
Police and protesters in Baton Rouge

Mounting concerns over pollution, public health, and the expansion of the petrochemical industry came to a head when two activists were detained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 30, the last day of a two-week protest against environmental racism in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. 

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Construction Mess Poses Major Risk to Atchafalaya Basin

Read time: 6 mins

It is a crime against nature,” Jody Meche, president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, said while scanning the Bayou Bridge pipeline right-of-way on the west side of the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest river swamp in a designated National Heritage Area. 

His voice trembled with rage as he told me that he was speaking for all the animals living in the basin that can’t speak for themselves.

“The Bayou Bridge pipeline has left a dam across the Atchafalaya Basin affecting the fisheries, the birds, the otters, minks, raccoons, and nutria,” Meche said.

Already Burning for a Month, Fracked Gas Blowout in Louisiana Could Last Two More Months

Read time: 7 mins
Gas well blowout burning in Louisiana on October 1

For the fifth week since the blowout began, a large flare is still burning**update below** at the site of GEP Haynesville, LLC’s blown out fracked gas wells in northwestern Louisiana. The blowout occurred on August 30, shortly after the company began a frack job, igniting two adjacent wells. A state official estimated that efforts to contain the blowout could take another two months, or more.

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