Supporting Fenceline Communities

Fenceline communities are those adjacent to a hazardous site, whether it’s a dump, refinery, chemical plant, pipeline or one of the thousands of facilities permitted to operate in Louisiana. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has worked primarily with refinery neighbors.

We work with neighbors to organize local groups to stand up for their health and for the planet. Sometimes the groups are organized when they call on us. Sometimes we help them to create a group.

Our deepest collaborations have been with Community Empowered for Change (Baton Rouge), Concerned Citizens of Norco, Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy, Residents for Air Neutralization (Shreveport), Standard Heights Neighborhood Association (Baton Rouge), St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality (Chalmette) and St. Rose Community One Voice. We have also worked with groups and individuals in Algiers, Alsen, Convent, Isle de Chiens, Lake Charles, Marrero, Meraux, Mossville, New Orleans, Port Allen, Venice and more.

We help communities establish and achieve a goal, be it a buyout of contaminated property, an end to expansions, installation of air monitors or reduced pollution.

Our current most active partnership is with St. Rose Community One Voice and residents dealing with the pollution from Vertex used oil refinery in Marrero.

To read about our collaborations with communities over the years, click one of the tabs in the Archive below.

Community Group: Concerned Citizens of Norco

On June 11, 2002 the Concerned Citizens of Norco won their hard fought battle with Shell Oil. Since the death of two community members in an explosion in 1973, the Diamond neighborhood advocated for a fair buy out of their contaminated and dangerous properties. They demanded relocation from Shell, as Shell had moved on top of them in the 1950’s.

Older members of the Diamond community – women in their 60s and 70s – recount holding signs and picketing in front of Shell in the 1970’s. Nearly thirty years later, Shell finally listened. A small, four street neighborhood convinced the world’s second largest oil company to hear its demands.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade began working with the Diamond community in 1999. We trained community members how to document Shell’s pollution in their neighborhood. We also worked hard to gain media exposure for the community. Our work resulted in 61 media stories in one 12 month period. During the final months of the campaign we organized a rally in front of Shell’s Houston headquarters. “Let My People Go” was the rallying cry. Stories appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Shell’s hometown newspaper.

The information on this site recounts steps toward the Diamond victory. Although the community’s demands were met, this victory must be seen in its context. An historic African American community has been uprooted and destroyed; community members are scattered in various places. This solution was a pragmatic response to a terrible problem. Diamond community members still tearfully recount lives lost to strange cancers and an alarmingly high rate of asthma. They recognize that relocation was the solution that could save their lives. However, there must be alternatives found; petrochemical giants swallowing towns and entire tracts of history is a sad solution.

Diamond is the site of the 1811 slave revolt, the largest slave revolt in history. The spirit of resistance is strong there. The community is mostly grassy, empty spaces now, with a Shell Chemical plant next door.

Diamond community members are now supporting other communities around the world affected by Shell’s operations. Port Arthur, Texas, and Durban, South Africa are two communities that continue to suffer the ills of living too close to Shell. The company continues to flare from its wells in Nigeria, and as recently as 2007 defied a court order to cease the flaring (

The following fact sheet was produced during the heat of the campaign and provides valuable insight into what issues were involved in the battle for relocation.

Fact Sheet

Norco, Louisiana 
Old Diamond Plantation and Shell

The Diamond Community of Norco, Louisiana is an African American neighborhood of four streets. Diamond is directly adjacent to Norco's Shell Chemical facility, 25 feet away from the plant's fenceline. The Motiva refinery - of which Shell is a partner - sandwiches the neighborhood on the east side. The citizens of Diamond have been battling for relocation through their community group, Concerned Citizens of Norco.

Historical value

Residents of Diamond are descendents of the slaves and sharecroppers who worked the land decades before Shell began its operations.

Diamond is the site of the 1811 slave revolt, the largest slave revolt in American history.

Shell's expansions have swallowed this land and left no trace of the historical value.

Property ownership

Shell has been buying property in Diamond since the early 1970's at an average of $26,933 per home. A three-bedroom home one block away from Diamond is currently on the market for over four times that amount - $110,000.

Shell currently owns 48 of 269 lots in Diamond - 18% of the community. Eleven percent of the lots that community members own are vacant or contain abandoned houses. Community members believe that residents are fleeing rather than live next to Shell.

Shell is currently offering a minimum of $50,000 per home, far below what residents say is needed to buy another home without going into debt. Local and corporate Shell officials admitted this to a group of socially responsible investors at a meeting in New York on March 12, 2001, but have yet to admit this fact to the community and try to resolve it.


Diamond residents note that odors from Shell facilities cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, congestion, sore throats, and difficulty breathing on a regular basis.

Many residents report improved health when leaving Diamond for periods of time. They also report that health problems re appear upon return to the neighborhood.

In a 1997 health survey by Xavier University's Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, 34% of children surveyed had asthma.

One-fourth of the women and children surveyed had to visit a hospital emergency room because of respiratory problems.

Accidents and chemical releases

Air samples taken by Concerned Citizens of Norco's (CCN) Bucket Brigade over the last two years reveal cancer- causing chemicals in the air, including methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and benzene, at levels that violate even Louisiana state standards.

Shell reported 66 accidents in an 18-month period over 1998 - 1999, an average of over three accidents a month.

In 1973, Helen Washington and Leroy Jones were killed when a Shell pipeline erupted and blasted into Mrs. Washington's home. Mrs. Washington's sister later sold the lot to Shell for $3,000. Leroy Jones' mother received $500.

Odors, noises, and lights from Shell permeate the neighborhood nearly 24 hours a day.

Many residents of Diamond report that they sleep in their clothes with a bag packed so they will be prepared to jump out of bed and run in case of an accident.

Negotiating Practices 

Intimidation. On August 22, 2000, a number of cars were parked outside of Margie Richard's home, as a television crew was due to begin interviewing Diamond residents about relocation. A police car drove by the house at least three times that morning. Residents note that there is unusual police activity in their neighborhood whenever there is a community gathering. They believe it is an attempt to intimidate them into giving up their struggle.

Divide and conquer. During meetings with the community, Shell managers oftentimes communicate information to a few individuals in offhand conversations, instead of to the group in the official meeting format. Shell has also mailed letters with conflicting information, leading some residents to believe that confusion is their goal.

Exclusive meetings. Shell repeatedly refuses to have open meetings with the community. In July of 2000, Shell held a meeting that was “invitation only.” The company turned community members away at the company gates, saying there weren’t sufficient “provisions” for people to attend the meeting. In November 2000 they refused to debate Diamond citizens on relocation on the grounds that an honest conversation would be "divisive."

Disputing the right of association. Some Shell managers attempt to interfere in the business of Concerned Citizens of Norco by trying to dissuade the community from inviting community advisors – technical experts, lawyers, organizers – to attend community meetings with the corporation. On one occasion, Shell management disputed the credibility of a fax on the basis that it was sent to the company from a city outside Norco. The community maintains the right to counsel from any and all sources.

Margie Richard Honored in New Orleans: First African American to Win Goldman Environmental Prize First Louisiana Appearance Since Award Will Highlight Marathon Refinery's Unjust Relocation Program
April 28, 2004

Norco Citizen to Face Shell Director at Global Headquarters
November 17, 2000

Bucket Brigade activists travel to world summit on environment to put global spotlight on Cancer Alley polluters
August 16, 2002

Norco's African American community releases report documenting Shell's divisive relocation program
March 27, 2002

Renowned toxicologist confirms health threat posed by Shell Norco: Diamond residents' demand for relocation strengthened
February 18, 2002

Renowned toxicologist confirms health threat posed by Shell Norco: Diamond residents' demand for relocation strengthened (event advisory)
February 15, 2002

Shell Norco warned of terrorist threat two days after New York attacks: Norco’s Diamond community terrified
October 2, 2001

Terrorist threats stir up Diamond relocation debate: Shell asked to reconsider buyout in wake of possible terrorist attack
October 2, 2001

Shell goes back on past promises: Buys disputed area of Norco; refuses to relocate residents
August 21, 2001

Shell buys disputed area of Norco; Citizens of Diamond neighborhood erupt in anger
April 21, 2001

Love Canal activist, Lois Gibbs, 35 national environmental groups rally for full relocation of Diamond neighborhood at Shell Square, New Orleans
June 20, 2001

Shell shuts door on relocation talks with Norco community: Company refuses to meet with expoert, then changes mind
May 16, 2001

Norco residents up the ante in shell relocation battle
May 13, 2001

Bill Moyers exposes chemical industry deceit: Shell named in program as suppressing health studies
March 28, 2001

DEQ lines pockets at expense of Diamond community
March 21, 2001

DEQ Press Release: State, national settlements with Motiva are "largest ever" in DEQ history
March 20, 2001

Tulane campus action targets Shell's Norco facility: Students announce support for African American community
March 7, 2001

Norco citizen heads to Shell headquarters in Holland: Plans to face Shell director
November 16, 2001

Air sample in Norco's Diamond neighborhood shows extreme levels of chemicals
September 25, 2000

Diamond community in Norco to increase air samplers
September 7, 2000

Shell’s 60 day deadline for commercial offers to Diamond long passed: Diamond community demanding written relocation offers
July 24, 2000

Hear the testimonials of people who live next to the Shell Refinery and Shell Chemical Plant in Norco, La.

Simply right click on the orange link and save the file, then launch it when it is finished downloading.

Iris Carter Audio Clip1
"It's our right to have clean air and to live the best we can. It's our God-given right – God didn't make pollution, man did. And it's time to stop right now!" (14 sec; 350 KB).

Iris Carter Audio Clip2
"It's real ! It's happening every day. Children have asthma, tumors, all this is happening now because we have all these diseases. The more you stay, the more you get, that's all I can say." (15 sec; 358 KB).

The Christian Science Monitor: To clean the air, communities grab a bucket
April 1, 2004

Louisiana Weekly: Group keeps eye on Shell's air monitoring program
December 22, 2003

The Times-Picayune: Activists will host environmental session; Norco residents near plants on agenda
May 15, 2003

L'Observateur: Shell seeks to purchase neighbors' homes
December 22, 2001

The Times-Picayune: Report; Norco plant exceeded limits; But June's flaring necessary, Shell says
December 21, 2001

The Times-Picayune: California lawmaker joins Norco group's crusade
November 15, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Shell land purchase draws heat
August 21, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Citizens target Shell
June 23, 2001

L'Observateur: area residents gather to celebrate, air complaints
June 20, 2001

The Times-Picayune: Orion blaze is extinguished but neighbors are fired up
June 9, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Norco residents bring in expert to negotiate buyout
May 19, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Diamond home buyout underway, says Shell official
May 12, 2001

The Times-Picayune: Homeowners will get at least $50,000
April 11, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Motiva settles with state, feds
March 24, 2001

The Times-Picayune: Deals reached for plant violations
March 22, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Tulane students stand behind Norco residents
March 10, 2001

The Times-Picayune: Norco residents acquire ally
March 8, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Shell talks real estate with fenceline residents
February 10, 2001

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Cancer Alley is not a myth (Letter to the Editor)
November 8, 2000

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Shell ducks debate with Diamond community
November 4, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Shell turns down debate on buyout
November 1, 2000

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Diamond residents challenge Shell
October 28, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Bad air day; Tension-filled day at Shell plant re-energizes critics in St. Charles
October 24, 2000

L'Observateur: Richard sees Shell plan as threat
October 14, 2000

St. Charles Herald-Guide: Community-industry panel looks at Shell and Diamond
October 7, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Shell buyout blasted; Plant's offer is for 2 streets
October 3, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Bad air day; Tension-filled day at Shell plant re-energizes critics in St. Charles
September 17, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Mending fences; Many of plant's neighbors eager for buyout
September 17, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Blown off: Ex-Motiva employee blows whistle
August 13, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Motiva target of criminal probe
June 10, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Refinery has allies, opponents in Norco
June 6, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Motiva broke air, water rules, EPA official says
June 6, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Refinery warned of alleged air violations
June 3, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Shell reconsidering Norco homes
March 24, 2000

The Advocate (Baton Rouge): Air sampling bucket simple, effective tool for environmental activists
January 29, 2000

The Times-Picayune: Shell fined for emissions violations
November 12, 1999

The Times-Picayune: EPA puts La., Texas chemical plants on notice
November 6, 1999

Louisianans want oil giant to buy out homes
November 5, 1999

The Advocate (Baton Rouge): Norco residents want Shell/Motiva to buy them out
November 5, 1999

Norco residents want Shell/Motiva to buy them out
November 5, 1999

Cox News Services: Louisiana residents want oil giant to buy out homes
November 4, 1999

The Times-Picayune: Plants' Neighbors Bag Their Air; Tests Will Flag Toxic Chemicals
June 21, 1999

Exxon Mobil sets double standard in Chalmette!

Citizen Groups Sue Exxon Mobil's Chalmette Refining

The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality (SBCEQ) was started by Ken Ford who has been monitoring activity at the refinery since 1982. He has filed complaints with LDEQ, overseen the permitting process, documented flares and accidents with his camera and taken air samples with his bucket. Mr. Ford and his neighbors present convincing inventories of failure of government oversight as well as health and psychological problems, some of which they believe are caused or exacerbated by the pollution. For more information, see the web site:

The goals of the SBCEQ are to:

  1. Create, maintain and preserve a cleaner and healthier environment for all the inhabitants of this state.
  2. Develop a body of information regarding refinery emissions and impact on the neighborhood by taking air samples and conducting health surveys.
  3. Involve and educate more community members on chemicals released into the atmosphere which can cause health problems. Some chemicals released in St. Bernard Parish are Toluene, Benzene, Hydrogen Sulfide, Sulfur Dioxide and many others.
  4. Find out what is causing routine emissions, upsets and problems created by industry.

There are refineries in parts of the U.S. that use modern technology and have low emissions. It is known that a clean operation is best for our community and our economy.

In 2007 a major victory was won. The EPA filed a federal consent decree against ExxonMobil in Chalmette, meaning that the refinery has to clean up according to federally enforceable guidelines. This came about after five years of community air monitoring.

The importance of this data cannot be overstated. It is a long term picture of what is happening in the parish. This is one of the few fenceline communities (and perhaps the only one) nationwide that can provide some idea of their air quality over the last five years. This is instructive for other communities, the DEQ and the EPA.

Our program in St. Bernard continues to support the residents there while cataloguing the results of the past years of air monitoring. Students from the University of Virginia are helping to complete this report.

Chalmette Air Monitoring Project
The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade are excited to announce that our joint effort, the Chalmette Air Monitoring Project (CHAMP) is underway again! You can go to come to this website at anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and receive live air monitoring updates to learn what is in the air that you and your family are breathing now.

Excerpts from Judge Vance's Ruling
February 4, 2005

Judge Sarah Vance's Ruling Against ExxonMobil
February 4, 2005

Troubled Exxon Mobil Refinery in Chalmette Accused of Polution Cover Up
October 25, 2004

Clean Air Act lawsuit
February 14, 2004

New York Times: America's chemical targets
May 24, 2005

The Times Picayune: Monitors show air polluted, groups say
May 12, 2005

St. Bernard Picayune: Public survey about Chalmette air monitor
May 5, 2005

The Environmental Magazine: The Bucket Overflows
May 1, 2005

The St. Bernard Voice: Odinet, Rodriguez cut ribbon at air monitoring ceremony
April 29, 2005

The Times Picayune: Refinery is urged to add air monitor
April 22, 2005

The Advocate (Baton Rouge): Monitor to offer air data to the public
April 22, 2005

The Times Picayune: Device to check air near refinery; Chalmette activists to post results online
April 21, 2005

Louisiana Weekly: 24-hour monitoring for ExxonMobil toxins
April 18, 2005

The Times Picayune: Air quality monitor set up in Chalmette
April 15, 2005

The Times Picayune: Groups: Chemical should be phased out
March 17, 2004

WDSU: Groups say refinery poses danger to 2 parishes
March 16, 2004

Ocala Star Telegram: Environmental groups protest against Chalmette refinery
March 16, 2004

New Orleans City Business: The Power Generation profile of Anne Rolfes
March 16, 2004

The Lakeland Ledger (AP): Environmental groups protest against Chalmette refinery
March 16, 2004

The Gambit: The smell test; Chalmette residents hope federal lawsuit will help fenceline communities
February 24, 2004

The St. Bernard Voice: Citizen groups sue ExxonMobil's Chalmette refinery
February 20, 2004

The Times-Picayune: Two groups suing refinery; They claim plant violates Clean Air Act
February 13, 2004 (AP): Environmentalists sue ExxonMobil's Chalmette refinery
February 13, 2004

Dallas Business Journal: La. groups sue ExxonMobil joint venture
February 12, 2004

Forbes: Louisiana environmental groups sue Exxon refinery
February 12, 2004

The Times-Picayune: Groups plan to file suit against refinery
December 5, 2003

Forbes (Reuters): Louisiana groups threaten ExxonMobil with lawsuit
December 5, 2003

Houma Courier (AP): Chalmette oil refinery under threat of lawsuit
December 4, 2003

The Times-Picayune: Refinery air quality violations alleged
November 22, 2003

The Times-Picayune: Refinery emissions too high, groups say
September 23, 2003

St. Bernard residents called for meeting about environmental matters in the parish
September 23, 2005

Citizen groups request results of samples from state and federal environmental agencies: Call for transparency and publicly accessible monitoring results after Hurricane Katrina
September 14, 2005

ExxonMobil forced by state to conduct air monitoring in Chalmette
May 27, 2005

Chalmette Neighbors Travel to Dallas for ExxonMobil Shareholder Meeting
May 23, 2005

ExxonMobil neighbors detail refinery abuses in Louisiana: Shareholders asked to intervene as liabilities escalate
May 16, 2005

First Results from Chalmette Air Monitors Expose Pollution
May 11, 2005

Plaintiffs in Clean Air Act Suit vs. Chalmette’s ExxonMobil File Motion in Federal Court for Ruling on Illegal Leaks and Flares
April 27, 2005

ExxonMobil found guilty of violating Clean Air Act: Judge’s ruling finds repeated violations
February 9, 2005

ExxonMobil found guilty of violating Clean Air Act again: Second guilty verdict this year with more than 2,000 violations found
February 9, 2005

St. Bernard residents unveil monitoring plan for Chalmette's ExxonMobil Refinery
January 31, 2005

Groups Call on Governor to Mandate Air Monitoring at ExxonMobil’s Troubled Chalmette Refinery
November 15, 2004

ExxonMobil's Chalmette Refining loses battle to delay justice: Citizens triumph in latest round of Clean Air Act lawsuit
October 27, 2004

St. Bernard Parish refineries engage in pollution cover up: New analysis of air monitoring shows carcinogens and developmental toxins go unmonitored
October 24, 2004

Step taken after Registry official refuses meeting with St. Bernard residents, fails to answer questions
September 26, 2004

St. Bernard residents to mobilize in front of Louisiana Tumor Registry
September 23, 2004

Groups offer community toxic tour to Tumor Registry epidemiologist: “She needs to understand what we are living with…”
August 24, 2004

Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette Refining leads refineries nationwide in use of hazardous acid
March 15, 2004

Citizen groups sue ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refinery: Frequent breakdowns at refinery threaten human health
March 14, 2004

Chalmette residents go high tech to monitor Exxon’s emissions: State of the art system gives immediate readings of pollutants in the air
December 7, 2003

Citizen groups send notice of intent to sue ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refining (media advisory)
December 3, 2003

Community air quality report to be released: Details serious exposure to toxic chemicals
November 19, 2003

Community releases air quality report: 41 violations of state and federal health standards
November 19, 2003

Tulane Press Release: Citizen groups give Chalmette Refining notice of their intent to sue for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act
November 3, 2003

Oil refineries pose unacceptable security risk to over 1 million people in Louisiana: ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refining stores dangerous chemical
October 13, 2003

Chalmette community bombarded by ExxonMobil chemical releases: Citizens alarmed at health implications; call for EPA intervention
September 22, 2003

Community to report on research in ExxonMobil's records: Health concerns spur citizen action
September 21, 2003

Chalmette Fire Chief flouts public access laws: Blockades access to ExxonMobil records
August 12, 2003

In New Sarpy, the bucket results were used to force the first ever meeting between the CEO of Orion Refining and the New Sarpy Concerned Citizens (NSCC). Air samples exposed the company's violation of the Louisiana state standards; videotapes of flares exposed Orion's false statements to the press and to the community; research of state records exposed the company's high accident rate: 40 accidents in 26 weeks. All of this information was immediately sent to state Department of Environmental Quality and EPA enforcement. A DEQ / EPA investigation took place in February 2001. The community outcry with supporting documentation -- the videotape, the accident records -- is the reason for the investigation. In July of 2002 the EPA issued a Notice of Violation.

In the spring of 2003 Orion went bankrupt, which came as no surprise to the residents of New Sarpy who had lived through the company’s calamitous operations. Vallero Refining now operates Orion, calling it the St. Charles Refinery.

Community Group: Mossville Environmental Action Now – MEAN, Inc.

For more information, contact MEAN.

People throughout Calcasieu Parish, the county in which Mossville is located, are ill in unusually high numbers. They believe that the concentration of petrochemical plants -- 40 in a ten-mile radius -- is the cause of the widespread illness. Conoco, Sasol, and PPG are three of the facilities that have long garnered complaints from local citizens. Though much of the parish population suffers the effects of industrial pollution, the African American citizens of Mossville bear a disproportionate share of the burden.

This background is an excerpt from the report Birds of Prey:

"Emancipated slaves founded Mossville after the Civil War, and the town was proudly born from African Americans' first step toward equality. The presence of so many petrochemical facilities in Mossville today is another symbol of African American history, albeit a sad one. When the petrochemical industry first moved in, the African American population did not have the political power to prevent industrial juggernauts from gobbling up their land. The families of Mossville are paying a heavy price for that legacy to this day.

Imagine that it is the 1950's and that you want to build a chemical plant in Louisiana. The Jim Crow laws of the segregated south are going strong, and African Americans do not have equal rights and certainly no political power. Would you choose to locate your plant in an area populated by influential white citizens where construction and operations would be subject to scrutiny, legal processes and oversight? Perhaps you would have to pay to relocate some of the families who live nearby to move them away from a future industrial neighbor.

The cheaper and more efficient option would be to put your plant in the area where the black people live, where people who demand scrutiny lack the power to make it happen. Many residents of Mossville believe that industry stands strong today because it profited from the repressive laws and social dictums of the segregated south. "

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The following case study was written in late 1999 and describes the evolution of the bucket brigade in Mossville:

Mossville, Louisiana - The South’s First Community-based Air Sampling "Bucket Brigade" - Case Study


The Bucket Brigade is a community based air-sampling program, a tool that community members can use in their campaigns to clean up their air. For people who live near oil refineries and / or chemical plants, the buckets provide a way for citizens to immediately respond to bad odors or suspicious smoke lofting from facilities. The Bucket Brigade is an air sampling method that has been approved by the EPA. The air-monitoring bucket was invented by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) of California to prove air pollution problems that their members experienced. Many of CBE’s members live near refineries and chemical plants in the San Francisco Bay Area’s own cancer belt located in heavily industrialized Contra Costa County 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. CBE spent four years perfecting the technology and training methods to ensure that communities will be successful when they use the buckets to prove they are being polluted.

The bucket is very community friendly and easy to use. When you see or smell something in the air that seems suspicious, you simply take your bucket outside, turn a valve, turn on a tiny vacuum, and wait for a few minutes for the bucket to suck air into a special sample bag. You then send your sample off to a laboratory. You do not need to be a chemist, a lawyer, or an engineer to take bucket samples. Instead of just complaining to government agencies or the plants, you will have the proof. As the Mossville Environmental Action Now group (MEAN) has shown, when you are worried by plant activity, you can take matters into your own hands and take a bucket air sample.

Developing your local Bucket Brigade to be successful means working in partnership with CBE and NORAN experts like chemist Wilma Subra of New Iberia. Just like anything else, there is a "right" way and "wrong" way to the buckets. If one Bucket Brigade takes samples incorrectly, it could hurt other communities across the country. There are now Bucket Brigades happening in North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Washington and even South Africa.

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Getting Started in Mossville’s Toxic Alley

The MEAN Bucket Brigade got started when Denny Larson of Communities for a Better Environment worked with residents of Mossville and Beth Zilbert to obtain funding for 10 buckets, 20 samples and CBE training. CBE then trained people on how to use them. The first bucket samples taken in Mossville and other areas in the parish were captured by local TV stations and newspapers. Under the guidance of CBE’s trainers, next door neighbors of industry like Mrs. Diane Prince and others are there, turning the valve, waiting for the air to be sucked into the bucket’s test bag. "Now we’ll have proof about what’s in this air," Mrs. Prince says as she pats the bucket. She was right.

The very first samples taken by MEAN showed pollution levels that exceeded state health standards. MEAN now has scientific evidence to show what is in their air, and they have used it to pressure the EPA to take action in their community. Residents sent the air samples to EPA offices in Dallas and invited the Administrator for an extensive "toxic tour" to educate officials about pollution problems. This strategy goes over the head of Louisiana DEQ to the agency that delegates money and authority to the state. Under federal law, EPA can take back money and authority from the state agency if it does not do its job. This is something that actually strikes fear into the hearts of even the most pro-industry officials in Louisiana: losing control of their toxic paradise.

Shirley Johnson and Haki Vincent have been the primary bucket coordinators for MEAN. There are 10 bucket samplers in the parish and many more folks (known as "sniffers") who report air pollution incidents and odors to them.

The Buckets Role in Forcing EPA Monitoring and Enforcement Armed with the evidence provided by Shirley and Haki’s bucket samples, MEAN has pressured the EPA to increase its own air sampling. EPA has increased its air monitoring activity in Mossville in two ways:

1. Air monitoring stations: The EPA has put in three temporary air monitors in Mossville. These stations logged similar results as the bucket samples, further supporting community complaints.

2. The TAGA truck. TAGA is an abbreviation for Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyst. The TAGA truck is like a very powerful bucket on wheels, a bucket that can provide an immediate air analysis. The EPA has one TAGA truck for the entire United States. Since MEAN’s Bucket Brigade proved the air in Mossville was polluted, EPA came to see for itself. In June, the TAGA truck rolled into town and took air samples. The TAGA truck found what the buckets had already proved: that the air in Mossville is loaded with toxins and that the companies there are violating state air standards.

In the last year in Calcasieu Parish, the EPA has taken action against a chemical plant and a refinery. MEAN’s Bucket Brigade provided EPA with the evidence and the kick they needed to focus on the community. EPA action in the area includes:

1. A $330,000 fine against Westlake Petrochemical. This inspection that triggered this fine was based on a bucket sample that showed benzene levels over 220 times the state health standard, as well as a home video showing days of huge flares from the plant. When EPA inspectors arrived they found a huge storage area for benzene soaked rags open to the air.

2. PPG plant in Mossville and Shell Chemical in Norco warned about its high number of accidents by the EPA office in Dallas. Bucket Brigade members have been preparing logbooks of flares, odors and explosions to forward to EPA on a regular basis. They also travel to Baton Rouge to catalogue the DEQ records on the almost daily accidents at local plants. The records are sent to the EPA.

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Buckets as an Organizing Tool

The Bucket Brigade involves the help of many members of the community. In addition to the people who are trained as bucket samplers, there are many more people needed to be "sniffers". "Sniffers" do just that , they sniff. They sniff for odors, they watch for smoke and flares, and they note everything in their sniffer logbooks. With notes on what a smell was like and when it happened, the sniffers help to compile a record on the companies’ operation. Their logs can be compared with official reports , like accidental release reports , to determine how the community is affected on a day to day basis. In Mossville, the sniffers worked with Shirley and Haki to alert them to strange odors and let them know when samples should be taken.

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The Bucket Brigade brings groups together.

In Mossville, chemist Wilma Subra has spent many hours helping to explain what the lab analyses of the bucket results mean. In addition, she has explained the rules and the regulations of the EPA and DEQ, helping MEAN to better plan its strategy. Beth Zilbert, formerly of Greenpeace, helped develop the strategy and helped to keep the community organized. Denny Larson made trips from San Francisco to provide further training and support to the Bucket Brigade. When your community organizes a Bucket Brigade, it does not act alone. The Bucket Brigade brings with it support from other organizations, including other Bucket Brigade communities in Louisiana.

Success brings success.

Once people in your community see that what you are doing is having an effect, they want to join with you. Your attempts to get people involved may get a lot easier once your success with the buckets becomes apparent.

Money Money Money

Like everything else, the Bucket Brigade takes money. The lab analysis for one bucket sample can cost up to $500.00. In Mossville, a local law firm donated money to pay for lab analysis. MEAN has worked with Beth Zilbert to write grants for additional funding. Money is something your community has to think about, but there are resources out there, and we can help you get them.

Results from the MEAN Bucket Brigade: How to look at results and what they mean

In the span of eight months - from September 14, 1998 to April 9, 1999 , MEAN’s Bucket Brigade took ten air samples. These samples detected toxic chemicals in the air at levels that violate state standards. The detected chemicals include known cancer causing agents, including benzene, vinyl chloride and 1, 2 , Dichloroethane (EDC). Wilma Subra gave the explanation provided here on a Saturday morning, when she sat down with residents of Mossville to explain what the bucket results mean:

The state sets standards , called ambient air standards - to regulate the amount of pollution in the air. Chemicals in the air are not to be higher than the standard that the state sets. For benzene, vinyl chloride and EDC, the state standards are as follows:

Benzene 3.76 ppb 
Vinyl Chloride .47 ppb 
EDC .95 ppb

The ppb stands for parts per billion. This means that in every billion molecules, the state says that there can be no more than the designated number of molecules (.95 in the case of EDC) present in the air. The following bucket samples taken by MEAN show that the state standards are being seriously violated.

Date sample taken Result State standard:

9/14/98 on VCM Plant Road 
- 4.7 ppb of vinyl chloride .47 
-4.7 ppb of EDC .95 

9/15/98 on S. Baudoin Rd. 
- 22 ppb of benzene 3.76 

2/28/99 on Guillory St. 
- 87 ppb of vinyl chloride .47 
-10 ppb of benzene 3.76

These three samples show that state standards are being seriously violated. But which company is violating the standard? There are many pieces of public information that MEAN used to find out which company is pouring these toxic chemicals into the air. By comparing public information with the bucket samples, they pieced together evidence just like detectives solving a mystery.

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The available public information includes:

1. Toxic Release Inventory (TRI)

Every July, companies file a mandatory report with the EPA. This report, referred to as the TRI, lists the amount in pounds of the company’s fugitive and stack emissions. It also lists the types of chemicals that the company emits. In the case of benzene, there are seven facilities in Mossville that report releasing benzene. All seven of these plants would be suspects. Citgo has the greatest amount of emissions, and would be the primary suspect.

2. Accidental Release Information

Companies are required to report accidents to the state Department of Environmental Quality. The rules of this reporting require the companies to call in accidents when they happen and to file a follow up report with the state. MEAN’s Bucket Brigade took samples on days when there was a particularly bad smell in the air. When they received the results of the sampling, they looked at the accidental release information to determine which company had an accident that day. A plant that had an accident on the same day that a noticeable odor was present is a likely candidate for the source of the odor and the dangerous health effects that go with it.

3. Wind direction

Wind direction is a crucial factor in determining which company is responsible for the harmful emissions. In an area like Mossville, with so many plants, knowing which way the wind is blowing can help to determine the source. If seven plants produce benzene and there is a strong wind from the south, the benzene in the air is likely coming from the plant or plants in the south.


MEAN has used the results from its bucket sampling to draw attention to their community’s toxic air and, for the first time ever, draw EPA attention and penalties. The Bucket Brigade can be used in a similar way in your community. The success of MEAN is just the beginning. With successful Bucket Brigades in your community and elsewhere, we in Louisiana and around the nation can create the healthy environment that we deserve.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade works with the Lower Ninth Ward’s Center for Sustainable Engagement to promote green building projects within the Lower Ninth. We also help individual homeowners to use green materials in their rebuilding. 

For more information please visit their website



The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, led by Desmond D’Sa is leading the fight for environmental justice in Durban.

SAPREF – the South African incarnation of Royal Dutch Shell – is one of the companies that community members are targeting, as the company dumps thousands of pounds of toxics into the air.

In addition to emissions, SAPREF’s underground pipelines are leaking oil. The company was not even aware of the problem until community members complained of oil bubbling up in their front yards.

In August of 2002, community members from Louisiana and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade visited South African communities that are battling the abuses of the petrochemical industry there. Margie Richard of Norco and Ida Mitchell of New Sarpy addressed community groups in Secunda, Sasolburg and Durban, inspiring the people there with stories of their own resistance. Fourteen year old Jonathan Hawkins of Norco told about the youth involvement in environmental justice.

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Contact Us

Louisiana Bucket Brigade
2803 Saint Phillip Street
New Orleans, LA 70119

 (504) 484-3433
 (504) 324-0332
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