Cancer Alley: Pollution Is Making Louisianans Sick, and They’re Fighting Back
My name is Kamea and I am 10 years old. I live in Sulphur, Louisiana near the Gulf Coast with my mom and my brothers and sisters. I love my home, but I’ve also learned that pollution from oil and gas is making me and the environment sick and it is also contributing to climate change.
I had everything planned for my tenth birthday party. I had picked out the decorations and a cake. I was so excited. But one week before my party, everything changed. My skin started to burn, itch, and break out. We went to the doctor and they told me I had a skin disease that I can’t even pronounce. They told me that I couldn’t have my party, but that my skin would get better. It didn’t. The doctors ran more tests and they told me that my skin condition is caused by my environment— the air around me is peeling off my skin.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve been affected by my environment. I’ve had asthma since I was little. But now that I’m older, I started to ask questions. What is happening to me? What’s causing it? How do we stop it?
My name is Roishetta and I am Kamea’s mom. It broke my heart to have to explain to my daughter and the rest of my children that the petrochemical facilities around us are poisoning our air. They spew dangerous chemicals, and pollutants that make it more likely for my kids, and others like them, to break out in skin rashes and develop other illnesses. They also pollute our water. For example, a recent report concluded that oil refineries in Lake Charles “release about 675 thousand pounds of nitrogen pollution a year in the Calcasieu river,” causing serious environmental harms.
I’ve also had to explain to my family that oil and gas companies are hurting us by causing climate change. In Southwestern Louisiana, we are experiencing the devastating effects of the climate crisis on a daily basis. Over the past several years we have suffered at the hands of fossil-fueled hurricanes, tornadoes, and even a freeze.
A few years ago, one of those hurricanes destroyed our home and my mom told us that our family had to move into a FEMA trailer (that’s a temporary place to stay when disasters destroy your house). We missed our house so much. And looking across our neighborhood, we saw rows of houses with roofs covered in blue tarps due to hurricane damage. Many of those are still here today.
My mom tells me that if these oil and gas companies continue to operate, not only will more kids continue to get sick, but the effects of climate change will get worse. But she also tells me not to worry, because there are people like her, fighting for our lives, and that I could help if I wanted. Immediately, I decided to fight for our town—just like her.
I talked to my friends at school, making them more aware of the issue. When we discuss climate change in class, I talk about the work my mom is doing, and tell my friends that we only have one earth, and we should take care of it. Speaking to my friends and family about the dangers of pollution and climate change was a good first step, but I wanted to do more.
In April, I helped my mom organize our biggest event yet. The Vessel Project of Louisiana planned and hosted an Earth Day march and celebration in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Before the event, we held an art workshop, so me and my friends could paint posters and decorations for the celebration. Then, we marched together! I was so happy to see my friends, and neighbors come together to celebrate our Earth, and to make sure we protect and preserve our home.
My mom tells me more polluters want to come to Southwestern Louisiana. The gas industry wants to build four huge gas export terminals within five miles of each other to ship gas to other countries. She says Lake Charles isn’t alone, that there are more than 20 gas export projects proposed to be built across the Gulf Coast. All of this pollution would be a huge problem for our community and the planet.
I want President Biden to stop approving these oil and gas projects. President Biden, please don’t let the Gulf Coast become a sacrifice zone. We don’t want these facilities in our backyards because they are poisoning our water and our air. It makes it harder for kids like me to spend time outside, and enjoy our planet. We only have one Earth, and it's time we start acting like it.
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