Health Advocacy Graduate Students to Assist Residents of Toxic Town

Eight Sarah Lawrence College graduate students are assisting the residents of Mossville, LA, suffering illnesses—in highly disproportionate numbers to the general population—from the effects of air and ground water pollution.

Mossville is situated in an area with an extraordinary concentration of toxic petrochemical factories: 53 industrial factories, of which more than forty are within a 10-mile radius and 13 within a half mile of the residential community.

Though signs that residents of the relatively poor city of 700 families were absorbing the toxins and becoming sick have been clear for over 15 years, the residents’ efforts to seek solutions to their problems through a grassroots organization, Mossville Environmental Action Now (M.E.A.N.), are only now being addressed by the EPA. A recent CNN story details the situation.

Under the direction of Rebecca O. Johnson, a member of the graduate faculty in the Health Advocacy Program, who consulted with M.E.A.N. after the devastation of Hurricane Rita, the Health Advocacy graduate students are creating a comprehensive participatory community health needs assessment. They will also develop a concept paper for the establishment of a free health clinic that will provide toxicological evaluations and address residents’ health issues related to air and water pollution, ignored by existing health facilities that are funded by the corporations that have created the environmental contamination.

From March 19-27, the Health Advocacy students will return to Mossville for the third time to continue their fieldwork activities, which include surveying the residents’ reported health issues and needs, and creating an overall environmental scan of factors that have caused and continue to contribute to the current situation.

Between visits, when they are back at the College, the students are analyzing the data and working on the collaborative concept paper they will present at the end of the semester. The students’ work is providing M.E.A.N. with its first set of comprehensive and impartial empirical data showing the lack of access to health care, the poor quality treatment for the complex conditions many people suffer, and the unwillingness of the local health care system to fully investigate the cause of illnesses among the residents. The concept paper for the health clinic will serve as a platform for advocating its establishment.