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.

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.

After a Legal Battle, Juneteenth Ceremony Honors Enslaved Ancestors at Gravesite on Formosa Plastics Land

Read time: 7 mins
Sharon Lavigne speaking at the Juneteenth ceremony at the site of a former burial ground for enslaved African Americans on the site where Formosa plans to build a petrochemical complex.

“I feel like our ancestors are shouting and rejoicing in heaven about what we did for them today,” Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a community group fighting petrochemical plant construction in St. James Parish, Louisiana, said after a June 19 ceremony held in their honor. “We did not forget them on Juneteenth. We honored them by leaving roses at the site where their remains are buried.”

Late this morning, Lavigne and a couple dozen supporters held the memorial at what they say is a former burial ground for enslaved people that sits on the future site of a $9.4 billion plastics plant complex. But even as widespread protests against anti-Black racism have prompted a national reckoning, the ceremony at the former grave site was met with opposition. FG LA LLC, a local member of the Formosa Plastics Group, owns the property on a former sugar plantation and denied Lavigne’s request to have a Juneteenth ceremony there. It took a last-minute judge’s ruling to force the petrochemical corporation to make the ceremony legal; Lavigne had planned to hold the ceremony there, with or without permission.

New Orleans Activists Call out Environmental Racism Alongside Police Brutality in Week of Protests

Read time: 9 mins
Crowd gathered outside of Jackson Square on June 6, the last night of a seven-day protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 3, just hours before New Orleans police tear-gassed a group protesting racial violence, Jesse Perkins, a Black veteran, called out the many shades of racism and violence his community faces daily.

What they inflicted on us was a slow violence. What is happening every day to these Black men on the street every day is violence. But it is all relative,” said Perkins, who lives in a house built on a toxic Superfund site in the Upper 9th Ward’s Gordon Plaza, a Black neighborhood. “That is why I’m here connecting the dots. Violence is violence. Racism is racism, whether it is environmental racism, whether it is racial profiling, whether you walk on the streets and get your brains knocked out by some guy who has taken an oath to uphold the law.”

Perkins was among the New Orleans activists connecting environmental racism and police brutality during a week of local protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police and focused on the Black Lives Matters movement. These protests, and the many others like it around the country, are taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, whose death toll has disproportionately affected African Americans and illuminated racial disparity in the United States.

Louisiana Breaks Ground on Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Project Amid Pandemic

Read time: 8 mins
Chris Burnet outside of his home on the Isle de Jean Charles.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed life much for Chris Burnet, a lifelong resident of Isle de Jean Charles, a quickly eroding strip of land among south Louisiana’s wetlands. Though the island, about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans, can’t be saved from the sea-level rise and coastal erosion that’s been intensified by climate change, Burnet is happy he still lives there, even though his days there are numbered. Besides loving life on the island, he believes its remoteness has kept him and the remaining island residents safe from the coronavirus. 

10 Years After BP Oil Spill, Pandemic Compounds Hardships Faced by Louisiana’s Commercial Fishers

Read time: 9 mins
Kindra Arnesen

A decade after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and spewing 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, south Louisiana resident Kindra Arnesen told me that the community was never made whole again, despite BP’s ads promising it would.

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