2024 journal article

Oral histories document community mobilisation to participate in decision-making regarding a hazardous waste thermal treatment facility

Local Environment.

By: J. Richmond-Bryant n, M. Odera n, W. Subra*, B. Vallee, L. Rivers n, B. Kelley n, J. Cramer*, A. Wilson n ...

Source: ORCID
Added: January 28, 2024

ABSTRACT Colfax, Louisiana hosts a commercial hazardous waste thermal treatment (TT) facility, which treats fireworks, explosives, and military ordnances by open-burn/open-detonation one mile from the edge of the nearest community. Seventy-one percent of Colfax’s residents are Black, and forty-six percent live below poverty, indicating the community’s structural vulnerability. This community-based study originated at the behest of Colfax community members. We hypothesised that the close relationships among members of this enclave may have enhanced the community’s ability to mobilise in opposition to the TT facility. We conducted semi-structured oral history interviews with nineteen community members and examined the social and interorganisational networks used by the Colfax community to claim its role in decision-making regarding the TT facility after years of exclusion from this process. Interview transcripts were analysed through the lens of community capacity theory to gain insight into how interactions among community members about the environmental hazards led to social mobilisation and improved participation in the decision-making process using codes for communication, organisation, and outcome. Additionally, we reviewed Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality records for complaints about the facility to gauge public participation. One notable theme across several interviews was exclusion from the initial decision-making process related to the facility. However, interviewees noted a sustained effort was made among community members to educate themselves about the facility, organise a response through neighbour-to-neighbour contact, and take action by submitting formal complaints and participating in public hearings. Through the lens of environmental justice, this study illustrates an evolving condition of procedural justice.