Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor

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For years, the residents of Diamond, Louisiana, lived with an inescapable acrid, metallic smell — the "toxic bouquet" of pollution — and a mysterious chemical fog that seeped into their houses. They looked out on the massive Norco Industrial Complex: a maze of pipelines, stacks topped by flares burning off excess gas, and huge oil tankers moving up the Mississippi. They experienced headaches,stinging eyes, allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems, skin disorders,and cancers that they were convinced were caused by their proximity to heavy industry. Periodic industrial explosions damaged their houses and killed some of their neighbors. Their small, African-American, mixed-income neighborhood was sandwiched between two giant Shell Oil plants in Louisiana's notorious Chemical Corridor. When the residents of Diamond demanded that Shell relocate them, their chances of success seemed slim: a community with little political clout was taking on the second-largest oil company in the world. And yet, after effective grassroots organizing, unremitting fenceline protests, seemingly endless negotiations with Shell officials, and intense media coverage, the people of Diamond finally got what they wanted: money from Shell to help them relocate out of harm's way. In this book,Steve Lerner tells their story.Around the United States, struggles for environmental justice such as the one in Diamond are the new front lines of both the civil rights and the environmental movements, and Diamond is in many ways a classic environmental-justice story: a minority neighborhood, faced with a polluting industry in its midst, fights back. But Diamond is also the history of a black community that goes back to the days of slavery. In 1811, Diamond (then the Trepagnier Plantation) was the center of the largest slave rebellion in United States history. Descendants of these slaves were among the participants in the modern-day Diamond relocation campaign.Steve Lerner talks to the people of Diamond,and lets them tell their story in their own words. He talks also to the residents of a nearby white neighborhood — many of whom work for Shell and have fewer complaints about the plants — and to environmental activists and Shell officials. His account of Diamond's 30-year ordeal puts a human face on the struggle for environmental justice in the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) - Steve Weinberg
Diamond is an important, ultimately inspiring book.
Ruth Rosen - Dissent
Steve Lerner's story of Diamond, Louisiana, is one of the most remarkable tales that has ever been told about the environmental justice movement.
From the Publisher
"'Diamond' is an important, ultimately inspiring book." Steve Weinberg The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

"Lerner does an excellent job of explaining concisely both the scientific and the legal issues involved... a compelling story." Publishers Weekly

"Steve Lerner's story of Diamond, Louisiana, is one of the most remarkable tales that has ever been told about the environmental justice movement." Ruth Rosen Dissent

Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262622042
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Series: Urban and Industrial Environments
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 708,724
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Lerner is the author of Eco-Pioneers: Practical Visionaries Solving Today's Environmental Problems (1998) and Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor (2006), both published by the MIT Press.

Robert D. Bullard is Ware Professor of Sociology and Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

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Table of Contents

1 The diamond story 9
2 Early days 13
3 Dangerous neighbor 29
4 Air assault 43
5 Grievances mount 55
6 Local residents organize 67
7 A brief history of Shell 85
8 A company town 95
9 Winds of change 119
10 First moves 127
11 Supporters converge 153
12 A new tool delivers hard evidence 179
13 Helping hands 197
14 The international arena 227
15 Finding agreement 245
16 Lessons learned 263
17 Unfinished business 275
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