By Kyle Barnett
A New Orleans-based environmental group is seeing an uptick in the use of one of their tools to combat environmental pollution.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) developed the iWitness Pollution map in 2010 following the BP oil spill. Since that time there have been more than 10,000 reports of industrial pollution or suspected industrial pollution uploaded to the map.
Lately, the number of reports in St. Charles Parish have been on the rise due to increased flaring at Motiva in Norco, which occurred during a plant turnaround.
LABB Program Manager Anna Hrybyk said the map is fulfilling a need within communities, such as St. Charles Parish, that are prone to industrial pollution due to incidents at local plants.
“The ultimate goal is to empower communities with a tool that allows them to document, in real time, impacts from chemical emergencies,” she said.
With industrial incidents being reported at a rate of about once every three days, it appears that there would be ample opportunity for community members to report on strange smells and sights.
“The first step of the scientific process is observation. So it’s very important for community members to observe and record their observations before they do any kind of deeper level sampling,” Hrybyk said.
Hrybyk said LABB hopes to make residents in areas surrounding plants more cognizant of the pollutants to which they may be exposed.
For those who work within plants where spills or leaks are sometimes not required to be reported to the state if they are not considered a danger to the larger community, Hrybyk said there is a way to anonymously submit a report.
“I want to emphasize that people know a lot of sensitive information, particularly in the St. Charles Parish area because they are working on the front lines of these accidents,” she said. “I understand that people are afraid to come forward, but it is so important for the health of the community and the environment to come forward or else it is as if it never happened and it will go under the radar.”
The iWitness Pollution map can be accessed at oilspill.labucketbrigade.org. Those who would like to call or text an incident can do so at (504)272-7645.