Mississippi’s Legacy of Pollution

On I spent the day at the Mississippi State Capital in Jackson attending a hearing focused on environmental justice and how communities across the state continue to be impacted by the legacy of environmental contamination, and on-going environmental destruction. The hearing, which was called by Rep. Gregory Holloway, Sr., was attended by number of state officials including MS Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director, Trudy Fisher; head of the MS Department of Environmental Health, Bruce Brackin; and several state legislators.However, the most impassioned and memorable speakers were the citizens who shared the stories of how their families and communities have been impacted by carcinogenic contaminants like creosote and dioxin. Many of the people who spoke live in low-income, minority communities. They have been struggling for years to push local, state and federal agencies, along with the corporate polluters responsible for these contaminants, to take action to clean up the places where they live and work. Unfortunately, it has often been an uphill battle.For example, Reverend Steve Jamison of Columbus, MS shared the story of how his congregation unwittingly purchased a church in 1999 on property contaminated by creosote from a nearby wood treatment facility. Twelve years and countless hours and dollars later, their church is still fighting to make sure the site is fully cleaned up and the people’s health protected.At the hearing, Rev. Jamison made the point that “We need people willing to enforce the set [of laws] we have…I want to be treated like I’m white and rich.” This was a common theme – these communities don’t want special treatment, but everyone deserves clean soil, air, and water. To learn more about some of the environmental justice challenges in Mississippi and beyond, check out the Coalition of Communities for Environmental Justice’s website.Raleigh Hoke is Gulf Restoration Network’s Mississippi Organizer.

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