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Petrochemical America Panel 09/25 – Recap

On Tuesday evening Kate Orff, landscape architect and co-author of Petrochemical America (Aperture, 2012), was joined in conversation by Mike Schade, campaign coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), and Wilma Subra, environmental scientist with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. They discussed their personal experiences studying the region known as “Cancer Alley” along the Mississippi River, and the impact of petrochemicals in New York City and the world.

@aperturefnd: Environmental scientist Wilma Subra says Louisiana still makes DDT and exports it to other countries, though illegal in the US

Gena Wirth kicked off the panel with a talk focusing on waste and the damaging methods used by petrochemical industry for managing, storing, incinerating, and disposing of it in the form of air-, water-, and surface releases; land release and covered landfills; waste storage ponds and pits; and underground injection, deposits, and pipes.

She identified Richard Misrach’s image of the ‘Norco cumulus’ as a clear example. What appears to be a benign cloud formation is actually the result of chemical emissions from a large Shell Oil Refinery in the region that is faint yet visible in the background of the image.

A reccurring point made by Orff on the collaboration between SCAPE and Misrach is the intention to make visible, through the use of drawing and photography, the largely invisible pollution in the region–and the routes it takes as it circulates through the air, water, and land.

Mike Schade discussed his experience as campaign coordinator at the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, describing his efforts to persuade New York City schools to adopt the use of more environmentally friendly products in construction and renovation projects, including campaigns to phase out the use of PVC and vinyl building materials, which are connected to heightened increase in asthma, learning disabilities, and other health concerns.

@aperturefnd: All of the plants in Norco, LA, generate their own weather, via huge emission clouds, says Wilma Subra

Wilma Subra began as a consultant, testing community environments on behalf of government and industry. But she didn’t like not being able to tell the locals what she’d found, so in 1981 she began working on behalf of her communities. She described her methodology for collecting, gathering, and presenting information to communities affected by petrochemical industry in Louisiana—particularly those along the Mississippi River—and educating fellow citizens on how to access, extract, and gather information from the EPA and other environmental resources.


Summarizing notes provided by Sarah Dansberger. Sarah is an Aperture Foundation Work-Scholar in the library department.

Petrochemical America

Petrochemical America

Petrochemical America features Richard Misrach’s haunting photographic record of Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor, accompanied by landscape architect Kate Orff’s Ecological Atlas—a series of “speculative drawings” developed through research and mapping of data from the region.

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