Nairobi, Kenya — Jo Banner, an environmental justice activist in Louisiana, came to the plastics treaty talks in Kenya to try to convince negotiators to put more attention on how plastics pollution impacts vulnerable people.
The co-director of The Descendants Project, Banner took to the stage at a Nov. 12 forum on the sidelines of the talks to urge countries writing the details of the agreement to remember communities like hers, along petrochemical production zones in the Gulf Coast.
"My community has many titles, one of the titles you may have heard of is Cancer Alley," she said. "That is because my area, the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, has the highest rate of cancer, the 95th percentile, in the United States."
Banner and others, including New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, spoke at a forum in Nairobi organized by World Wildlife Fund and Beyond Petrochemicals to look at how the treaty should address climate and health impacts from plastics production, use and disposal.
Cantrell told the audience of treaty delegates that residents of Southeast Louisiana are impacted by air, water and soil pollution from petrochemical plants, and their prevalence has turned the region into the "gas station of the United States."
"Air pollution is at the front, based on these petrochemical facilities that have adorned Southeast Louisiana, putting our people in harm's way," she said. "Health disparities are four times the national average. This is what our people are suffering from."
"These facilities have been built on the backs of our people, in the backyards of communities," Cantrell said. "They are disproportionately African American communities and communities of color."
Groups taking the stage at the event, "Visions for an Ambitious and Just Treaty," have said they want to push countries to prioritize restrictions for toxic chemicals used in plastics, as well as require more disclosure of chemical components in plastic and place limits on resin production. Some like Banner said they want to stop plastic production altogether.
Treaty talks involving diplomats from 170 nations and hundreds of observers are scheduled to run from Nov. 13 to Nov. 19 at United Nations offices in Nairobi. Two more sessions are planned to finish the agreement by late 2024.