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West Louisville Biodigester Site Surrounded by Pollution Hotspots

J. Tyler Franklin

A proposed biodigester site in Louisville’s California neighborhood is moving forward.

As WFPL’s Ashley Lopez has reported over the past few months, the community is divided on the issue. Last week, a number of West Louisville leaders spoke publicly in favor of the project, after the city secured a deal with STAR BioEnergy to invest $5 million in the area and give Simmons College and Kentucky State a building.

But opposition remains. Last month, residents told Lopez why they were opposed to the plant:

“It’s not a fresh air community,” Yolanda Walker, a resident of the California neighborhood, said. “It’s not hard to see, if you walk around the community, it got that way due to the businesses that are in the community — the industrial type of businesses that are in the community, because at our back door we have a chemical plant.”

Carol Clark, a resident and business owner also in the California neighborhood, said the biodigester proposal is the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“West Louisville, it seems like, is the dumping ground for everything the East End doesn’t want,” she said.

They’re right.

The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a tool earlier this year to map environmental justice issues. It overlays pollution information with demographic information; the higher (darker) segments on the map mean residents there are disproportionately low-income and minority populations who are exposed to more pollution than the national average.

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While the particular city block where the proposed biodigester would be built isn’t always the worst in the area, surrounding blocks and neighborhoods are among the worst in Louisville for exposing poor and minority residents to particulate matter, lead paint, Superfund sites, facilities with Risk Management Plans and industries that discharge into the water.

Check out these maps; the location of the proposed biodigester is marked with a small blue cross. And although the maps are zoomed in on the West End, the city has few other environmental justice areas.

Particulate matter:

Lead paint:EJ Screen

Superfund sites:

Risk Management Plans:

Water discharges:

The biodigester technology offers obvious benefits to the city; it will take waste and turn it into natural gas that will heat residents’ homes. But as the above maps and the project’s opponents have pointed out, there’s a difference between something being positive for the city’s environment and something being positive for the local environment in a block or neighborhood.

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