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"For much of the state of Maine, the environment is the economy"
                                           — US Senator Susan Collins, 2012 Jun 21

Jerome Ringo

Environmentalist from Lake Charles, Louisiana

The following contains excerpts from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment "Dorceta Taylor Interviewed by the Gambit Weekly Newspaper," 2005 August 17.

Lake Charles native Jerome Ringo is the new head of the National Wildlife Federation. His employment with Westlake Petrochemicals took him through Louisiana's chemical corridor of predominantly poor African-American 'fenceline' communities.

"The everyday lifestyle of people living under the shadows of industry is vastly different than that of average Americans," says Ringo, pointing to high rates of cancer and respiratory ailments in areas with a heavy industrial presence. The residents' ever-present fear of a catastrophic accident takes a psychological toll as well. "You've got procedures like 'Shelter in Place,' which is designed for people to respond to the releases of toxic gases and chemicals. Community members know they're at risk every day," he says.

Ringo organized people in Mossville — a neighbor to Lake Charles — to bring awareness to their exposures to toxins from nearby industries, and to lobby for pollution regulations. [For information about Mossville, see: (1) Breathing Poison: The Toxic Costs of Industries in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, (2) Body Burden: Tools for Communities]

"The environmental justice movement has been strong in Louisiana because Louisiana has cancer alley," says Ringo, using the oft-repeated epithet for the chemical corridor along the Mississippi River. "This is ground zero — this is where the amount of toxic chemicals discharged is out the roof. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted is out the roof. The amount of cancer is out the roof."

Ringo says minorities in Louisiana are still not as involved as they should be, given the disproportionate burden that falls upon poor communities of color. "Poor people have a different list of priorities, poor people are more concerned about next month's rent, and keeping their kids off drugs," he says. "That has to change. I tell people, what good is next month's rent if you're dying of cancer?"

See related page, A Conversation with Charlie Atherton.


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