Wilma Subra is a tough grandma in New Iberia, Louisiana who has worked to empower communities suffering from environmental injustices for more than 30 years. In 1981, she formed the Subra Company, a chemical lab and environmental consulting firm that helps communities fight chemical industry threats. She has represented neighborhoods suffering from illnesses caused by paper mills, industrial facilities, oil refineries, chemical plants, landfills and hazardous waste sites and has helped them identify the sources of their symptoms. She has never turned anyone down and has even risked getting shot at to continue her work.
Subra has investigated everything from natural gas drilling in Texas and Wyoming to polluted shipyards in San Francisco. She was spurred to create her own company after being frustrated with the political holds on her findings in the EPA Love Canal Project and ever since has sought full disclosure with communities. She empowers ordinary individuals by educating them and then training them to monitor plant emissions so they can take on the fight against their polluters.
Subra’s latest work includes studying the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. She received many complaints about headaches, dizziness, stinging eyes, and breathing difficulties after the spill and joined with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network to make BP provide respirators and protective gear to the exposed population. She says that BP oil is still present in the Gulf region and washes onshore- as a result, she has engaged in a 5 year study of the health impacts of eating seafood from the Gulf area.
Subra has also helped remediate and redevelop the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Superfund Site in San Francisco and search for shelter for people affected by the Mississippi River flooding. She regards her greatest achievement as closing down an oil waste incinerator in Amelia, Louisiana. Because of all of her efforts, Wilma Subra received the 1999 MacArthur Genius Grant and was honored at the 9th Annual Global Exchange Human Rights Award Gala. While many of her efforts may have put her in harm’s way, there’s no sign of Subra giving up any time soon.