May 16, 2006
Written by C.N.
We all know by now that nine months after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans area is still cleaning up and trying to recover. As part of that process, city officials want to create a new landfill for the remains of houses and other debris destroyed by the hurricane. The problem is that this proposed landfill is located right next to a large Vietnamese neighborhood in New Orleans:
More than a thousand Vietnamese-American families live less than two miles from the edge of the new landfill. And they are far from pleased at having the moldering remains of a national disaster plunked down nearby, alongside the canal that flooded their neighborhood when Hurricane Katrina surged through last year.
Environmental groups are also angry, accusing local and federal officials of ignoring or circumventing their own regulations, long after the immediate emergency has ended. The same thing happened after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, they warn, and that dump ended up becoming a Superfund site. . . . State officials say that the new landfill is safe and that they are simply moving quickly to protect public health and the environment. . . .
The state has agreed to do some extra monitoring of groundwater, Dr. Brown said. But it has determined “there’s nothing toxic, nothing hazardous,” he continued. “There will be no impact” on the community, which is sometimes called Versailles. Like so many disputes that have erupted since the hurricane, this one involves some highly charged issues: politics, money, history and race. Not to mention a highly developed distrust of government that almost all Louisianians now seem to share.
I obviously don’t know all the details of this particular issue but at first glance, it seems like it is a clear example of environmental racism — purposely targeting poor and/or minority neighborhoods and areas for toxic dumps, landfills, factories, and other environmentally-dangerous projects. I may be a little cynical, but something tells me that one of the reasons why this particular site was chosen was because officials implicitly felt that its residents were relatively powerless and would not be able to put up much resistance.
It would be really sad if this were true and if the proposed site is finalized, since the Vietnamese of New Orleans were one of the first to return and to rebuild their communities. Yes it would be sad — but not entirely surprising, and that would be most unfortunate part of it all, that once again, government bureaucracy and capitalism trumps basic human dignity and community needs.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "New Orleans Vietnamese Protest Toxic Landfill" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/05/new-orleans-vietnamese-protest-toxic-landfill/> ().
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