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Complaint: Missouri DNR Allowed Excessive Air Pollution In South St. Louis

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency will review a complaint that Missouri officials have allowed excessive air pollution in low-income and minority neighborhoods in south St. Louis.

The complaint, filed by the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, alleges that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources violated Title Six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the EPA’s own regulations, by renewing air pollution permits for Kinder Morgan Transmix, a gasoline and diesel fuel company, without input from residents.

It claims the operation affects the Dutchtown, Marine Villa, Gravois Park and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.

“You can smell everything that is going up in the air from our office in Dutchtown on really bad days,” said Karisa Gilman-Hernandez, a community empowerment organizer for Dutchtown South Community Corp.

“The community members, they were unhappy with the smell,” she said. “But they’re very unhappy with the fact that all of the pollutants are in our air, and then into our water, and into our soil. ”

The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed the complaint on the behalf of the Dutchtown South Community Corp., the NAACP Missouri State Conference and the NAACP St. Louis City Branch.

“Any time we approach community groups that we represent or other organizations to say, ‘Hey, there’s another permit up for comment; do you guys know about this?’ They always tell us no,” said Sarah Rubenstein, an attorney for Great Rivers.

Great Rivers has repeatedly questioned Missouri DNR officials about their decisions to issue the permits, Rubenstein said.

The Dutchtown South Community Corp., in collaboration with Washington University, published a report in 2019 that found that Black children in the city are more than twice as likely to have lead in their blood as white children, and more than 10 times as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma.

St. Louis has a history of poor air quality and pollution, along with documented problems meeting federal regulations.

But Black St. Louisans disproportionately suffer from the effects of pollution.

Both the Civil Rights Act and the EPA prohibit governments from allowing disproportionate pollution or waste in low-income or minority communities, or other discriminatory environmental practices.

But Rubenstein says the DNR has not responded to their concerns.

“We’ve received very dismissive responses from them in these cases, and in a few cases just no response whatsoever on this issue,” she said.

DNR officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Follow Becca on Twitter: @itsreallyflick

Becca is an intern with St. Louis Public Radio.