By Emily De Leon
Photo courtesy of Pexels
Cancer alley is a region in Louisiana along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This area is known for its high cancer rates and number of nearby polluting facilities. Cancer Alley is considered an industrial hub with nearly 150 oil refineries, plastic plants and chemical facilities (United Nations, 2021). Considering the amount of air pollutants and waste that is produced by these plants alone, this is a concerning number. According to the UN, the cancer rates in the districts of St. James Parish could be around 104-105 cases per million, with a comparatively lower number in white districts. In this area, a vast majority of people experience some type of cancer, miscarriages, and respiratory diseases. This is not a new issue, as people have been fighting for environmental justice since the early 90’s. The communities that are located close to these facilities are called fence line communities. As defined by Law Insider, fence line communities are low-income communities of color that have increased health risks due to the close proximity of a major pollutant (Law Insider). This definition seems to be fit for a community such as St. Gabriel and St. James Parish that are located within Cancer Alley. The residents in this area are disproportionately impacted by these plants and are predominantly poor, minority communities.
This is an issue that is deeply rooted in environmental racism and environmental justice. It seems to be the case that these plants have a direct impact on human and environmental health. This is an example of an issue that got out of control and was highly overlooked by the government at all levels. The fight for environmental justice continues here and in many other parts of the country to protect their homes and lives. There have been positive efforts to address this situation. Most recently, Joe Biden signed an executive order in January of 2022 on “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis and the pledge of the US government to listen to science, strengthen clean air and water protections, and hold polluters accountable for their actions” (United Nations, 2021). In his speech announcing this executive order, President Biden mentions Cancer Alley and that Environmental Justice will be at the center when addressing impacted communities of color (United Nations, 2021). It is important to recognize the good that the executive order and the statement has done, it has brought attention to Cancer Alley and shows that it is critical to continue to raise awareness and educate about places like this all across the US and call attention to them. As long as education continues to thrive surrounding Cancer Alley and other fence line communities, the problems they face as a result of industry will be unable to be ignored by the government.
Baurick, T., Younes, L., & Meiners, J. (2019, October 30). Welcome to "Cancer Alley," Where Toxic Air is About to Get Worse. ProPublica. https://www. propublica.org/article/welcome-to-cancer-alley-where-toxic-air-is-about-to- get-worse
Law Insider. (n.d.). Fenceline community definition. Law Insider. https://www. lawinsider.com/dictionary/fenceline- community
United Nations. (2021, March 2). Environmental racism in Louisiana's 'cancer alley', must end, say UN human rights experts. UN News. https://news. un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086172