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Kitchen table convos from the Gulf Coast South. 
After hurricanes, disaster tourism is an actual thing on the Gulf Coast. It’s a bad thing. 

Reliably, after each natural disaster, the state will put a warning that attempts to shoo away any hopeful disaster tourists from driving down to the coast–wherever the disaster may be–to scope out the damage. There’s something about piles of debris that tends to get folks really excited. 

But disaster fallout comes in many forms, and the worst part of the fallout for communities may involve what we can’t see, not debris on the street but the debris that’s still in the air. That’s an especially potent fact when you consider how southwest Louisiana is home to a major leg of the nation’s petrochemical industry, and how direct damage to plants in the area can impact the already vulnerable health of surrounding communities. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality knows that, but the agency has so far dropped the ball in terms of providing solid data to citizens.

Dr. Kimberly Terrell, director of Tulane University’s Environmental Law Clinic talks with me this week about air quality monitoring, or a lack thereof, on the part of LDEQ. 

We’re also cooking up chicken quesadillas for this week’s recipe. Let me know what you think in an email, and send me a recipe for next week’s installment so I can show it off. 
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XP: There’s a lot going on in the Lake Charles area these days, including the ongoing aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. The region also has a poor history with air quality monitoring, especially in surrounding underserved communities like nearby Mossville. What are some of the current issues at play in the region that my readers might not be aware of?

KT: ... There's talk of further industrial expansion in that area. There was a recent zoning proposal that had come up on the [Lake Charles Police Jury, the local governing body under Louisiana law], and they were talking about potentially resolving a big chunk of land near the Sasol plant. I think it's currently zoned either residential or agricultural–I don't remember–but they're talking about rezoning it to industrial. So, in the midst of all the existing environmental concerns, plus the extra concerns brought on by these recurring disasters on top of that, you have this push for further industrialization. The community members that we work with are really concerned about how that impacts their health and the existing health impacts that they're dealing with.  

XP: Is there anything particularly unique about the fallout we’re seeing in southwest Louisiana following Hurricanes Laura and Delta? 

KT: Something that's been a big concern from my perspective has been the lack of information about air quality and air monitoring. I just checked this morning and not all of the monitors became operational again after Hurricane Laura. I'm not sure how they've been impacted by Hurricane Delta. It looks like there's still a ton of Entergy power outages. But kind of the slow response after Laura was really concerning, and now it seems like Delta is another major setback. So, the two pieces that were really concerning to me after Laura was, one, [the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality] took a considerable amount of time to deploy its mobile [air] monitoring unit. I think it was a solid week before they sent that unit out. Basically, that's like a big van that has a lot of high-tech air monitoring equipment that can be anywhere in the state. 

So, if you anticipate a hurricane is coming in, it would seem that you would kind of be ready and be on standby and be prepared to deploy a unit like that. There's really no indication of why it took them a full week to send that van out. You can find the data from that unit on LDEQ’s website, but there's no location information. As far as I can tell, LDEQ hasn't provided any information [like]: Okay, these are the areas where that mobile unit was monitoring, and this is why we focused on these particular areas. And then, second, like I said, for example, there are only two monitors for particulate matter in the Lake Charles area, and one of them is a continuous monitor at a site in the community of Westlake, which is adjacent to Sasol, which is a major petrochemical plant in the area. That monitoring station came back online September 16. Understandably, it may take a couple of weeks to get things up and running when you're dealing with power outages, but even though that station has been up and running, there's no particulate matter data since before Hurricane Laura. That station has collected data on temperature and wind speed, and from other pollutants, but it would appear from the data that's available online that the particulate matter sensor–the PM sensor–it appears there's some issue with that because it's not generating data. 

XP: I'm not sure how long you've been based around the New Orleans area. I read you grew up along the Mississippi River Basin. Is LDEQ breaking with any type of precedent set by past hurricanes, such as Rita, by not having the mobile air monitoring unit out and available? 

KT: That's a really good question. I wasn't here [during Rita in 2005]. I was living in New Orleans during Katrina, but I wasn't doing this type of work. So, I don't have a good perspective to share from that angle. But what I can say is that both of these storms have impacted Texas as well. We've been able to contrast the response of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and I can say, certainly, Texas was able to get their monitors operational more quickly. Texas also took advantage of resources that the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] was offering. I think it's called an incident management team, but basically EPA provides support to the state agencies to help in the aftermath of these disasters. As I kind of continuously read the EPA updates in the aftermath of Laura, you could see that Texas had engaged their EPA team, and in every update it said the Louisiana team is standing by in case Louisiana DEQ decides to use that resource. 

So, one of the functions that the team served in Texas was air monitoring, right? You have a lack of information in Louisiana, but then you also have the agency not fully taking advantage of all the resources at its disposal. 

XP: Why do you think that is? Is it negligence? 

KT: It's hard to say. What I can say is that it's been consistent with the LDEQ’s track record with what we’ve seen of not recognizing the risk that these communities are facing, particularly the community of Mossville that was literally paved over for the expansion of the Sasol plan. So, without kind of knowing the inner workings of LDEQ within this particular situation, I can't really speculate, but I can definitely say it's consistent with this general lack of engagement and LDEQ’s track record of not prioritizing the environmental health of communities in the Mossville area and the Lake Charles area

Louisiana to help pay for devices that can save sea turtles from shrimp nets

Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, Tristan Baurick


“The new $250,000 state program will reimburse up to 60 percent of the cost for special metal grates known as TEDs, or turtle excluder devices, for shrimping nets used in the Gulf of Mexico. TEDs create an opening that allows trapped turtles to escape nets before they drown.” 

Deadly bacteria lurk in coastal waters. Climate change increases the risks. 

The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations, The State, Ali Raj, Veronica Penney, Sofia Moutinho, Kristen Lombardi, Sammy Fretwell


“Health workers see Vibrio as a rare danger, if they’ve heard of it at all. But it’s already causing more cases of flesh-eating disease. And it’s poised to get worse.” 

Is the risk of sea level rise affecting Florida home prices? A new study says yes. 

NPR, Laurel Wamsley


“Research published this week finds that home sales volume and prices have declined in coastal census tracts vulnerable to sea level rise, relative to coastal areas less threatened by climate change.” 

The fruits of their labor

Southerly, The Marjorie, Hannah O. Brown, Becca Burton, Lyndsey Gilpin


“For at least a decade, the University of Florida has depended on the labor of incarcerated people to run their agricultural research farms. That labor has been essential to powering research on specialty and commodity crops — information that eventually lands in the hands of farmers across the state.” 

Racism turned their neighborhood into 'Cancer Alley.’ Now they’re dying from COVID-19.

USA Today, Rick Jervis, Alan Gomez


"Americans living in ‘Cancer Alley’ suffer from high rates of cancer. In this six-part series, USA TODAY investigates how racism fuels COVID-19 deaths.” 

Migrant workers restricted to farms under one grower’s virus lockdown

The New York Times, Miriam Jordan


“The guest workers have been prevented from all but carefully controlled trips to avoid contracting or spreading Covid-19. ‘I never expected to lose my freedom,’ said one.” 

Chicken quesadillas


The ingredients: 
  • 12-20 flour tortillas 
  • 2-3 chicken breasts 
  • Bell pepper 
  • White onion 
  • American cheese 
  • Butter 
  • Olive oil 
  • Black pepper
  • Salt 
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin 

The Steps: 
  • Pour some olive oil in a frying pan, season your chicken breasts with the seasonings listed above, and then toss the chicken breasts in the pan once the oil’s hot. Cook until ready. 
  • Dice up your onion and bell pepper, and your cooked chicken once it’s finished, cook together until vegetables are soft and ready, and then combine those ingredients into your tortillas, top with a slice of cheese, and fold the tortilla in half. Do this till you run out. 
  • Cut off a dab of butter and throw it in the skillet, which should have all the remnants of your seasonings from cooking the chicken, and then make sure the melted butter is spread around the skillet. 
  • Cook your quesadillas on each side until they’re crispy and the cheese inside is melted. 
That's another week in the books, dear readers. 
I hope you got enough to eat. There’ll be enough to go around next week and the week after.

—Xander

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