Pollution fears persist in Pascagoula neighborhood

Published: Mar. 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2017 at 3:02 PM CDT
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Some of the residents of Cherokee Forest say they plan on taking their own air samples, as well...
Some of the residents of Cherokee Forest say they plan on taking their own air samples, as well as dust samples, to have independently tested. (Photo source: WLOX)
The trunk of Barbara Weckesser's car is a gritty, grimy mess. (Photo source: WLOX)
The trunk of Barbara Weckesser's car is a gritty, grimy mess. (Photo source: WLOX)

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Some of the people who live in the Cherokee Forest area of Pascagoula are living in fear. They're not afraid of crime, but for their health.

The area is located near one of the heaviest industrial sites in Jackson County. After testing that lasted for weeks, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality released a report saying air quality poses no threat, and people don't need to worry.

Fred Nelson, Sr. and his wife, Bobbie, are out for a morning walk. Just across the street from Cherokee Forest, dust from a sandblasting operation can be clearly seen this morning. Nelson notices something else.

"A lot of people have got cancer. Some of them have dementia, and I believe it's coming from the plants in the area," Nelson said.

Mike Devine is spending time with his grandson on this bright, sunny day. That's not always the case.

"Sometimes the smell would be so bad that we couldn't come outside the house," Devine recalled. "We would have to stay in our home, because the smell would be so strong, my eyes would start to get irritated and begin to burn and itch, and so would my wife's."

What causes that? Perhaps an answer can be found on the trunk of Barbara Weckesser's car. It's a gritty, grimy mess, and she says not to forget about the odor.

"One day it's one smell, the next day it's another. We get a sweet smell. We know that's benzene. We get the sulfur smell. We get an acid smell. What is it," questioned Weckesser.

Dane Crenshaw may have an answer for that, but it's certainly not scientific.

"I see different things. I see crud all over my lawnmower, crud all over my boat. They didn't clean it up," Crenshaw explained. "I want them to start thinking about other people for a change. Not just their money."

Not everyone feels that way. Ken Morgan has called Cherokee Forest home for decades.

"I've been here 40 years, actually more than 40, and I'm still breathing OK. I don't see or smell anything," Morgan said. "I see people going to work every day, feeding their families. All I see is money coming and going in and out of the town."

Melissa Ellington and her father, Wayne, like to be outside, but that's a challenge some days.

"When I'm reading, it's like it's snowing dust and whatever else. It's on my books and my tablets. It's just really weird, because I have to blow it off constantly," Melissa said.

Melissa added she also has health concerns.

"Since I was about 7 or 8 years old, I've had headaches, migraines and headaches. I'll be 30 in May, so they didn't just start from nowhere. I'm pretty sure it's from what's in the air down here," said Melissa.

There's another pollution fear as well for Wayne. That is noise pollution.

"At night, we hear a lot of noises, sometimes all night long. It's not as severe at night as it is during the day, but I can still hear it inside my house," Wayne explained.

With the MDEQ basically coming out and saying that the air quality in the Cherokee Forest subdivision is fine, the bigger question remains for the residents. Do they trust that report? Even bigger yet, do they trust the government?

"Absolutely not. I had it analyzed, and I know what's in the report that they don't want us to know. Every one of those chemicals causes cancer," said Weckesser.

"The government has faults just like everything else, and I feel like the government needs help," Crenshaw agrees.

Some of the residents of Cherokee Forest say they plan on taking their own air samples, as well as dust samples, to have independently tested. We'll continue to follow this story in the weeks to come.

We reached out to some of the industries that operate along Bayou Casotte. Chevron and First Chemical sent statements saying the companies are very concerned with keeping the environment clean and are pleased the MDEQ report showed the air quality in Cherokee Forest to be safe.

Halter Marine and World Marine declined to comment.

Full statement from Chevron:

Chevron is proud to be an active member of the diverse group of stakeholders working to enhance quality of life in east Pascagoula. We appreciate the latest example from a key partner: MDEQ professionals provided air quality testing in the Cherokee Forest neighborhood, distributed detailed reports of the sampling results, and held a public meeting to explain the results and answer questions. We are optimistic that providing these types of transparent and objective results will offer encouraging information to our neighbors and our employees about air quality in east Pascagoula.

Full statement from First Chemical:

At Chemours, our Environment, Health and Safety Policy is at the very core of how we do business every day at every facility around the globe. Our purpose guides our unshakeable commitment to protect the environment and the health and safety of our communities, customers, and colleagues.

We are proud to be part of the Pascagoula community since 1967.  As part of our responsible operations policy we also work hand in hand with the communities where we operate.  Like all Chemours manufacturing sites, our Pascagoula site maintains a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) made up of representatives from business, emergency response agencies, community members, such as ones in the Cherokee Forest neighborhood, and other nearby residents. Our CAP provides an opportunity to address questions and discuss key areas of interest with a diverse cross-section of community representatives.

We are appreciative and encouraged by the MDEQ Community Engagement Program providing objective air quality testing and sharing the information with us, and our neighbors, regarding the air quality in East Pascagoula.

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