New Orleans Physicians take a Stand for Gordon Plaza Relocation


A sign outside of the fenced-off Press Park from a recent demonstration (Jesse Baum, Bigeasymagazine.com)

Virginia Byron, MD, a resident at Tulane Medical Center, has spent the last few months educating the Medical professional community about Gordon Plaza, where over 50 households still live on the site of an abandoned landfill. The location was designated a “Superfund Site” in 1994 by the EPA, and residents have been petitioning for decades to get fully-funded relocation, so that they may escape the site where their neighbors have been dying of cancer for decades. The development was built by the city and included a rent-to-own community that was run by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO).

While conducting outreach to doctors, nurses and medical students, Dr. Byron petitioned the medical professional community to sign a statement advocating for fully-funded relocation for the remaining residents of Gordon Plaza. Medical professionals in several of the different hospitals around the city got involved as well. The letter, which was written with the help of residents of Gordon Plaza and is addressed to Mayor Latoya Cantrell, calls on her to fulfill the promise she made while campaigning, to support the residents of Gordon Plaza and oversee a just relocation. The letter, signed by dozens of medical professionals, calls for “fair, swift, and fully-funded relocation.”

“As physicians, it is our duty to dig deeper into the root causes of disease, which are nearly always socially-mediated. In the case of the families living in Gordon Plaza, the people in power in this city have taken advantage of them for generations. We feel responsible for adding our voices to those of the community members asking for relocation,” says Byron.

The full text of the letter is below, and you can find more of Big Easy Magazine’s coverage of this issue here and here.

You can contact the city about this issue at:

1300 Perdido St
2nd Floor
New Orleans, LA 70112

(504) 658-4900
mayor@nola.gov






__________________

Dear Mayor Cantrell

We are writing to you as physicians and medical students of New Orleans to express our
grave concern for the health and human rights of the residents of Gordon Plaza. As you know,
Gordon Plaza is a residential community in the upper 9th ward that was built in the 1970s on
top of the former Agriculture Street Landfill. Unbeknownst to the homeowners at the time,
primarily African American families, the soil that their “American Dream” was built on was
laced with toxic chemicals from decades of hazardous waste disposal. In 1994, the
neighborhood was designated a Superfund site by the EPA, the only such site in Orleans
Parish, indicating a contaminated piece of land that poses a danger to human health. Since
then, the top layer of soil has been replaced, but periodic EPA reports indicate that toxins are
still present at detectable levels.

Three generations of New Orleans children have now been raised on this poisonous soil. It is
historical and contemporary injustices such as these which underlie the racial disparities in
health that plague our city.

Please join your constituents in seeking justice for the residents of Gordon Plaza. During your
campaign, you pledged to direct the city’s resources towards creating a safe and healthy
environment for the people of New Orleans. Now we ask that you live up to that pledge. We
stand with the families of Gordon Plaza in demanding a fair, swift, and fully-funded relocation.

Sincerely,

Virginia Byron, MD
Kimberly Mukerjee, MD
Connie Hsaio, MD
Sana Shuja
Jonah Kreniske, MD
Sweta Singh, MD
Paul Musgrave, MD
Jacob Cross
Jeremy Wearn, MD
Indu Varier, MD
Veronica Alexander, MD
Nathan Rinehouse
Jonathan Daire Orner, MD
Poonam Thakore, MD
Natasha Lee, MD
Nate Glasser, MD
Catherine Jones MD
Nicole Cervantes, MD
Dallas Platt
John Carlson, MD
Rachel Hammer, MD
Raja Kiani, MD
Kasia Clarke
Ymaliz Ramirez, MD
Daniel Brady, MD
Vanizá Naveed, MD
J.J. Fabiszak
Morgan Jessee, MD
Sarah Talia Himmelfarb, MD
Karen Garay, MD
Claire Fitzgerald
Angelina Dixon, MD
Marlen Ortega Cruz, MD
Myrline Rose Belzince, MD
Riley Taylor
Abraham Mathai, MD
Vinay Krupadev, MD, MPA
Vy Anh Mai, MD
Aaron Brug
Paige Kretschmar, MD
Andrew Elliott Russell, MD
Megan Snyder
Johnny Blanchard
Heather Alva, MD
Jason Halperin, MD
Simon Shamass, MD
R. Mayuri Garikepati, MD
Stephanie Rubin, MD
Jeffrey Percak, MD
Alex Ranucci
Julie Finger, MD, MPH
Claire Natsios
Michelle Huber
Darryl Chow
Elizabeth LaRosa, MPH
Molly Sonenklar, MD, MPH
Anne Fenton
Frances Gill
Kristen Slaymaker, DO
Silai Mirzoy, MD
Meghan Handley
Deborah Elise Levy, MD, MSPH
Jinnesse Taylor N


Jesse Lu Baum is a queer writer and cartoonist originally from Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Medium.com, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Mid-City Messenger and Preservation in Print. Aside from writing, she has also worked as a non-profit home repair person, a theater bartender, and a research assistant. If you liked this piece, you should check out Jesse’s other work here.

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One thought on “New Orleans Physicians take a Stand for Gordon Plaza Relocation

  1. My mother, who is now deceased once lived in Gordon Plaza. I can actually recall playing on the dump site as an adventuring child prior to the construction of the residential facility. I am currently employed as a ‘Community Case Manager’ at a site of the “Daughters of Charity” medical clinic located within the Desire community. Confronting environmental racism and the severe consequence of social inequality is my professional and personal obligation. I have some experience with community outreach and organizing. Please let me know if I can volunteer in support of this cause for environmental justice.
    Peace

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