Environmental justice fellow and LSU-S student helps refinery communities take action

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NEW ORLEANS, La. – For communities close to Louisiana’s oil refineries, an emergency preparedness plan is necessary. Today, many of those residents will have the resources to address their concerns thanks to a plan developed with the help of a college student from Louisiana State University-Shreveport this summer.

RJ Bowman, a sophomore at LSU-S, spent nine weeks this summer as a fellow of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Environmental Justice Corps. The program is designed to bring together African American students who are interested in environmental justice and health fields. Students are selected from historically black colleges and universities and from the fenceline communities LABB serves.

Bowman focused on researching zoning issues, relocation plans for residents living near dangerous refineries and emergency preparedness. But environmental justice isn’t a new subject for him.

He grew up in Shreveport, La., where he is an active member of Residents for Air Neutralization, a non-profit with a mission to create and establish better air quality for residents who live near the city’s Calumet refinery. “Coming from a fenceline community myself, it is always exciting to hear the stories of other communities and their struggles. It feels great to be able to offer some advice and some of my experience as well,” Bowman said.

As an EJ Corps member, Bowman got to accompany LABB staff on outreach missions along the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill. “Seeing the oil spill in person really opened my eyes to the devastation big oil companies can do to communities,” he said.

He also attended meetings with the EPA and traveled to the National Conference on Bioethics at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

“RJ is the type of person we need as the future of the environmental health and justice movement,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of LABB. “He grew up in a refinery town and knows firsthand how the industry assaults the health and well-being of communities. Now he's in training to do something about it.”

Although previously, Bowman was a student at Louisiana Tech studying architecture, his work in environmental health this summer inspired him toward a new career path. He’s now enrolled at LSU-S studying chemistry.

“I changed it to chemistry because I am curious of how the chemicals that affect communities are formed and the different effects they may have that are not documented,” Bowman said.

About the Louisiana Bucket Brigade:
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization supporting neighborhoods’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable communities free from industrial pollution.

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