Environmental justice, civil rights, chemical toxins, corporate accountability
Issues of environmental justice and civil rights come to the fore in this fine account of a Louisiana community’s battle with its petrochemical company neighbors. Drawing heavily on interviews with residents and local activists, Lerner (Eco-Pioneers) chronicles how the people of Diamond, an African-American subdivision sandwiched between a Shell chemical plant and a Motiva oil refinery in the town of Norco, lobbied Shell (which also owns Motiva) to pay for their relocation after decades of exposure to the plants’ toxic emissions. Led by Margie Richards and her Concerned Citizens of Norco, Diamond residents argued that the Shell plants’ pollution caused a variety of problems, including kidney and nervous-system damage and lung cancer, while their white neighbors, who lived further from the plants’ shadow, tended to dismiss such claims. Lerner charts the growth of a grassroots, community drive to get Shell to recognize its impact on Diamond, the movement’s expansion to encompass assistance from national organizations such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club and its ultimate success in convincing Shell to pay for the relocation of many Diamond residents (though Shell did so without acknowledging that its plants caused health problems). Lerner does an excellent job of explaining concisely both the scientific and the legal issues involved, never slowing down or oversimplifying a compelling and complicated story.
Steve Lerner, Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor (MIT Press, USA 2005)