This project investigates the “plantationocene,” proposed by Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing as an alternative epochal descriptor to the anthropocene. As a diagnostic tool for the ills of our age, the plantationocene centers colonial relations, racial hierarchies, and global markets, rather than the inevitable technological advances, of an undifferentiated human species.
This work is grounded in the river parishes of Louisiana, investigating the toxic industrial conditions that have evolved from the sugar plantations that dominated the landscape 150 years ago. I look specifically at Noranda Alumina, a facility that refines Jamaican bauxite ore into commercial-grade alumina, which is then smelted into aluminum or used as a petrochemical feedstock. Sited on a historic sugar plantation in Louisiana’s infamous “cancer alley,” the refinery’s most notable toxic impact is the release of almost 1,500 lbs per year of mercury vapor, by far the highest level released in the state. My research focuses on the overlapping harms visited upon both marginalized people and ecological systems through the extractive and brutal land use regimes of the plantation and the refinery.
The refining process results in huge amounts of waste and contamination, with the facility reporting toxic releases of 15,000 pounds to the Mississippi, 563 tons to impoundment ponds, and 2,000 pounds to the air each year.
Mercury is emitted from the Noranda site at a height of 72 feet and a rate of .171 lbs per hour, for a total of 1,500 pounds emitted per year. Because this area experiences changeable wind directions throughout the year, significant quantities of mercury likely deposit in all directions from the facility.
Mercury is deposited over the Maurepas Swamp when wind blows from the South and Southeast (March to July and September to November).
Breaching + Rethinking the Levee
The approach toward breaching the levee was developed as a critique and scalable response to the current Mississippi mat sinking revetment operations. This intervention proposed speeding up the channel flow.