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.

In Louisiana Where Science Denial is Commonplace, Support Remains Strong For Trump

Read time: 10 mins
Trump supporter at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The president has not conceded — the president said he has got us,” I heard a voice blare out over a loudspeaker as I walked toward the Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge at a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 9. Once there, I found a few dozen people gathered listening to a handful of speakers consoling themselves about the imminent end of the Trump administration.

Photos of the Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley in 2020

Read time: 7 mins

The disproportionate toll that COVID-19 is taking on the Black community brought environmental justice issues to the forefront during 2020. Calls for dealing with climate change and environmental justice were elevated by president-elect Biden, who spoke about endangered communities in the last presidential debate and on his campaign website, calling for environmental justice and “rooting out the systemic racism in our laws, policies, institutions, and hearts.”

2020 Gulf Coast Hurricane Season in Photos: From the Front Lines of Climate Change

Read time: 8 mins
A flattened home spotted after Hurricane Delta in the wetlands of Cameron Parish, Louisiana, on October 12.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season had a record-breaking 30 named storms, so many that the National Hurricane Center ran through the standard list of names and moved on to the Greek alphabet with over two months of the season left. In all, 12 storms made landfall in the continental United States, with five hitting the Gulf Coast. I photographed the aftermath — the destroyed homes, damaged oil and gas sites, and contaminated wetlands — from four of those Gulf Coast storms, including Hurricanes Laura, Sally, Delta, and Zeta. 

This selection of photos shows the devastating impact hurricanes have had primarily in Louisiana but also in Alabama and Florida, in an already difficult year beset by a pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. 

Cancer Alley Community Leaders Are Cautious As Biden Picks Their Fossil Fuel-Friendly Congressman for White House Role

Read time: 11 mins
Cedric Richmond and Joe Biden

Community leaders long at odds with the powerful petrochemical industry in Louisiana took note when their Congressional representative, Cedric Richmond, announced November 12 that he was taking a new job in the Biden White House. In his announcement, Richmond, a Democratic representative in Louisiana for most of the heavily industrialized region stretching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, made no mention of his constituents’ ongoing battle for environmental justice.

Anti-pollution Advocates Cheer as Army Corps Reviews Formosa Plastics Permit in Louisiana

Read time: 6 mins
RISE St. James Black Lives Matter March in Lutcher, Louisiana, on October 17, 2020.

Environmental and community groups in Louisiana are elated after what they see as two back-to-back wins in their fight to protect fenceline communities from additional petrochemical industry pollution. This week, a key federal permit for a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex under construction in St. James Parish, near largely Black and poor communities, is on pause, and Louisiana voters rejected an amendment that could have let petrochemical companies off the hook for paying property taxes in the state forever.  

Hurricane Zeta Leaves Thousands Without Power, Oily Mess On Heels of Laura and Delta in South Louisiana

Read time: 7 mins

I will evacuate next time a hurricane is forecast to hit the area,” Traditional Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi- Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe told me the day after Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana’s coast on October 28.

Like many in the storm’s path, she was caught off guard when the storm intensified just before slamming into the coast. 

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.

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