A Louisiana environmental law firm is advancing the argument that pollution from vinyl plants and chemical sites near an African-American community amounts to a human rights violation.
The firm is pursuing the case in a novel forum: the Organization of American States, an international body of 34 countries, including the United States, whose goal is to promote democracy and human rights in the Western Hemisphere.
New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights is asking OAS to investigate its claim that weak environmental laws essentially sanction pollution in Mossville, La.
It said, for example, that the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that Mossville residents have dioxin levels in their blood at three times the U.S. average. And it argues that other studies, such as one from the University of Texas at Galveston, have said that health problems of local residents are associated with chemicals emitted by nearby industrial facilities.
What makes it a human rights violation, the group argues, is not the pollution itself, but that federal and state environmental laws are too weak to stop it.
``We're saying the U.S. regulatory system is creating a human rights violation,'' said Monique Harden, a lawyer with AEHR, which describes itself as a nonprofit law firm.
``In Mossville, the fish are poisoned, and the waterways are contaminated and excessively polluted. You have chemicals in the ambient air above safe levels.
``Notwithstanding that, permits continue to be issued to these facilities,'' she said.
OAS has no formal authority, but it does investigate claims of human rights abuses among its members.
Harden, a former Greenpeace lawyer, was involved in efforts that derailed Shintech Inc.'s plan in 1998 for a PVC plant in Convent, La.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said it has not studied AEHR's petition enough to make detailed comments. Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas, which covers Louisiana, had no comment.