One of the first things we did as we were getting started was talk to our neighbors. We created a simple survey asking folks about what they were hearing, smelling, and feeling. While this survey was not an "official" health survey (created by a scientist), the results were quite revealing.
We talked to 97 out of 132 households (the number of households has declined since 2014). A total of 307 adults and children were surveyed. Roughly one third of those surveyed were children.
More than 60% of those surveyed reported at least one of the following: sinus infection, respiratory infection, pneumonia, and hospital stay. One parent shared that their child had been hospitalized 10 times that year. Five other children under the age of 12 were also hospitalized. There were at total of 22 hospital stays, 30 cases of pneumonia, 78 with at least one respiratory infection, and 138 with at least one sinus infection.
Residents reported many other symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomach, vomiting blood, excessive coughing and mucus, weight loss, watery and burning eyes, scratchy and itchy throat, fatigue, chronic sinus problems, and diagnosed with severe allergies, asthma, and acute bronchitis.
94 households also reported strong odors, dust, and loud noises.
“It smells like gas and burns my eyes, nose, and throat.”
“The odor makes me dizzy.”
“The smell takes my breath away at times.”
“I ride daily through the neighborhood, the smell is so bad I wear a respirator.”
“Ammonia smell is so strong I can smell it in my house.”
“My shed is covered with dust.”
“My car is covered with dust.”
“The dust comes in through the vents.”
“I have to change air filter every two weeks.”
“I get really sick every time I go out to my shed that is covered in dust.”
“I got really sick after mowing my lawn.”
“The noise is so loud that it rattles and shakes the house.”
“The noise is so loud I cannot focus.”
“The noise wakes me up at night.”
Over the years, we have collected a number of stories about the health issues people in our community are facing. As we gather together and when we walk the neighborhood, we learn of yet another person experiencing similar health problems.
People talk about getting sinus infections and headaches regularly, being diagnosed with asthma. Others shared they have trouble sleeping and focusing, and some talk about the rashes they get when they work outside in the yard. Grandparents talk about how they their grandchildren don't come to visit because every time they do they get sick.
One of our founding members had children with severe respiratory issues. Her youngest child had to have regular breathing treatments and was in and out of the hospital. Thankfully, her child is doing much better after they took a loss on their home and moved out of the neighborhood. Many people have said that they can breathe better when they move away or even when they travel.
Alone these stories are antidotal but woven together they tell of a community being poisoned regularly by nearby industrial activity. Still, the stories we shared hardly seemed enough to convince the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality or the Department of Health or local officials of the public health crisis happening in our neighborhood. So, we decided to conduct our own "official" health survey.
In 2019, we partnered with Dr. Wilma Subra, an environmental biologist with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) to create the survey. Over the course of nine months, we canvassed the neighborhood several times and contacted our members to complete the survey either online, written, or in-person. We continued our outreach until we reached a sufficient sample size for our community. Eighty people completed the survey, accounting for nearly 40% of all residents in our neighborhood.
We submitted the results for analysis to Dr. Subra and received the report in 2021. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that they considered themselves as "sick" as opposed to "healthy." The average number of days people reported being sick was 9.3 days a month. Only a few report being sick less than one day a month and nearly 25% reported being sick almost 15 days a month.
By far, the majority of respondents reported symptoms related to sinus and respiratory issues. In fact, 90% of people surveyed experience respiratory issues. Half of people surveyed also reported experiencing symptoms associated with ears, nose, and mouth, muscle and joint pain, behavior and mood symptoms, such as increased fatigue and sleep disorders, and neurological symptoms, such as forgetfulness, weakness of hands, tingling of hands, and dizziness.
Nearly half reported experiencing urinary and urological symptoms (40%) and cardiological/lung symptoms (48%). Fifteen people reported having cardiovascular, vascular, and heart disease, and nine reported having cancer. (We have documented a total of 35 cases of cancer in the neighborhood; many of which have since passed or moved away and thus, did not complete the survey)
Dr. Subra concluded the report by stating that the health issues facing our community are consistent with the health impacts that have been linked to the known industrial toxins released into our area.
Recently, after another beloved member of our community passed away with heart complications, we decided to add them all up. In the last five years, 23 people have that we know of have died of cancer, heart, and lung issues. For us, Dr. Subra's report confirmed what we already knew to be true. We are now using it to convince others.