Illustration by Mary Crooks

    Anne Rolfes


    Anne Rolfes organized the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to “support communities who were negatively impacted by the oil industry.”

    Developed in California, the “bucket” is a device that the neighbors of oil refineries and chemical plants can use to measure the amount of toxic gases in their air. Anne created the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in 2000 to teach community members of the Gulf Coast how to use the buckets.

    Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade generated an Oil Spill Crisis Map, which allows individuals to post the effects of the environmental disaster on a map of the Gulf Coast.


    Anne was inspired to found the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in 2000 after serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa. “While I was there, I started to learn about oil pollution, all the pollution that comes from oil in Nigeria, in the Niger Delta,” she says. “From there, I started to work on issues in the Niger Delta, and then came back to my home, which is Louisiana, because I realized there were also pollution issues here.”

    One of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s biggest accomplishments so far has been helping the residents of a neighborhood in Norco, Louisiana. The community, Diamond, was sandwiched between an oil refinery and a chemical plant. The owners of the refinery helped Diamond residents relocate after it was found they were being exposed to toxic gases.

    “We helped the group in Norco—they are called the Concerned Citizens of Norco—finally after years convince Shell to buy out their contaminated property, so they could move to a healthier environment,” Anne says. “So they took a lot of air samples to achieve that.”


    “The most rewarding part is absolutely working with the communities, who are essentially our constituents, or those people who are working to improve the environment and health of the state,” Anne says. “There’s no contest.”


    Anne says that the environmental impact of the oil industry can be overwhelming. “To address every problem is fairly exhausting and honestly impossible,” she says.


    Anne says that the locations of Gulf Coast oil refineries are clearly based on geographic features of the landscape. Most of them are located on large tracts of land with access to the water.

    Anne can easily recall one instance of using a basic geographic tool and realizing its power. “The reason that I got really excited about the bucket for the very first time was because of a map,” she says. “The map showed the refinery, and it showed wind direction, which is the wind coming from the refinery on the people. That means all the chemicals are being carried by the wind on the people, and it also showed bucket results on the map. And those results showed . . . the chemicals from the facility in the neighborhood.”


    Anne says that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade takes all sorts of volunteers, whether they help the organization track health symptoms caused by toxic emissions, or prepare disaster responses. One important way to make a difference is simply by contacting people in affected regions. “It’s always good for the communities to know they have supporters far away.”

    To volunteer, send an e-mail to

    Real-World Geography: Louisiana Bucket Brigade

    Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accomplish Verb

    to succeed or complete a goal.

    contaminate Verb

    to poison or make hazardous.

    delta Noun

    the flat, low-lying plain that sometimes forms at the mouth of a river from deposits of sediments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: delta
    disaster Noun

    terrible and damaging event.

    emission Noun

    discharge or release.

    essential Adjective


    facility Noun

    a building or room that serves a specific function.

    map Noun

    symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: map
    negatively Adverb

    in a bad, unpleasant, or unpopular way.

    neighborhood Noun

    an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    oil spill Noun

    accidental release of petroleum products into a body of water, either by an oil tanker or an offshore oil rig.

    overwhelm Verb

    to completely overpower.

    pollution Noun

    introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: pollution
    sandwich Verb

    to put an object between two other objects.

    toxic Adjective


    tract Noun

    area of land.

    wind Noun

    movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.