RESPOND: A Residential Oil Spill in St. Bernard Parish,
Katherine Foo, Student ASLA, Heather Gott, Affiliate ASLA, Meredith Haamen, Affiliate ASLA, and Suzanne
Perry, Affiliate ASLA
of Michigan, School of Natural Resources & Environment, Ann Arbor, MI
Faculty Advisors: Bunyan Bryant and Gregory Button
RESPOND: a residential oil spill in St. Bernard Parish, LA, is an interdisciplinary
work that uses citizen science, community-based design, and community organizing techniques to assist residents
in making informed rebuilding decisions after a million gallon oil spill that occurred during Hurricane Katrina.
It introduces the precautionary principle in risk assessment, fills informational gaps about health risks, and provides
design and organizing tools for moving forward. It also creates a model for responding to residential oil spills
in other communities.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resurrected old pollution problems in the Gulf Coast, but they also gave St. Bernard
Parish lagniappe by swirling a million gallons of crude into the mix. The Murphy Oil spill was the biggest residential
oil spill in U.S. history. Parish residents, who were dealing with more immediate concerns like housing and
insurance, were concerned with the contamination but had little energy to deal with its immediate effects.
Our research team surveyed over 200 parish residents, asking how they receive information about contamination
and which issues are of the greatest concern. We found that 43 percent of parish residents felt that they had
not received the information they need to make informed decisions regarding health risks potentially caused
by Hurricane Katrina. While no one can tell residents with absolute certainty whether it is safe to return
to their homes, we created this handbook in an attempt to assist parish residents in making decisions about
Chapter 1 shares public agencies’ key findings related to contamination after Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita. It admits that scientists, at present, do not know the answers to all of residents’ questions
related to contamination. This chapter presents the Precautionary Principle as a way to protect public health
in the face of uncertainty, and it explains how the reader can apply it in her/his everyday life.
Chapter 2 highlights questions raised by St. Bernard citizens related to environmental contamination.
It explains the important contaminants found in the parish, shows where they have been found, and describes
how they may impact residents’ health.
Chapter 3 focuses on soil lab reports and provides the reader with tools to help make sense
of soil testing data. By learning how to read data, the reader can decide for her/himself whether s/he feels
the situation is safe or unsafe.
Chapters 4 and 5 turn to the future and focus on the ways that residents can effectively take
charge of the clean-up process. Chapter 4 explains ways to improve the health of the parish by applying bioremediation
and phytoremediation in residential yards, advocating for buffer zones to separate residential from heavy
industrial areas, and strategic thinking about open space design to improve ecological health. Chapter 5
provides techniques intended to help residents pursue their goals. It shares organizing resources for parish
residents who want to start a campaign to clean up existing pollution or prevent future threats.
This handbook attempts to help its readers find answers to their questions, with the hope that
they find the information provided useful and inspiring.
- a lay audience from St. Bernard Parish
- those who hold an interest in residential oil spills
- those who are interested in the way that citizen science, community-based design, and community organizing techniques can effect change.
- people can comprehend complex data sets if presented to them in an accessible way
- a new type of knowledge arises from combining disciplinary perspectives, and this
knowledge is critical in understanding industrial contamination and technological disasters
Impact & Effectiveness
- Effectiveness in thematic focus: The publication resulted from a 205-person survey
and 14 qualitative interviews of St. Bernard residents. Of those surveyed, 43% responded that they did not
have enough information to make informed decisions about contamination in rebuilding. RESPOND…
attempts to fill this gap
- Effectiveness for target audience: St. Bernard Parish government recently received a U.S . EPA CARE (Community Action for a Renewed Environment) grant to guide residents in understanding and prioritizing their overall concerns related to contamination and the environment, and the program coordinator for St. Bernard Parish intends to use this publication to educate and communicate with residents.
- Media impact: To date, research related to this publication has kept the oil spill
in the press through a press conference and two newspaper articles about issues related to the oil spill.
- Impact on community and educational organizations in the U.S.: The team
has received numerous requests for copies of the publication based on the unique model that it poses in addressing
urban residents and industrial contamination.
- Print publication to be distributed:
- through the postal service to residents who have requested copies
- in person at a community training workshop that took place June 4, 2007
- through civic and community organizations in the New Orleans area
- Internet publication
- on a website hosted by the University of Michigan (www.sitemaker.umich.edu/respond)