cancer alley

Permit Hearing for Taiwanese Plastic Plant in Louisiana Turns into a Referendum on Environmental Racism

Read time: 9 mins
St. James Parish resident Rita Copper holds a photo of a friend who died of cancer

You don’t give a shit about brown and black people,” Louisiana activist Cherri Foytlin told government officials during a heated public permit hearing for a proposed plastics plant in St. James Parish. The parish is a predominately African-American community on the banks of the Mississippi River and has undergone rapid industrialization in recent years.

This is a dog-and-pony show and everybody in this room knows it,” she asserted, after the hearing officer cut off the sound system while Foytlin was giving her public comments. The officer, O.C. Smith, attorney for the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management, did this declaring that the hearing was no longer on the record.

Residents of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Join Climate Movement In Call For Environmental Justice

Read time: 7 mins

On September 8,  “Rise for Climate” events took place in 95 countries around the world, pressing leaders to take action on climate change and other environmental issues, a week before a global summit on climate change in San Francisco.

Thousands turned out at over 800 actions spearheaded by 350.org, an environmental advocacy group,

Alaina Boyett, a member of 350 New Orleans, a local affiliate of 350.org, organized two events dubbed “Rise For Cancer Alley.”  Over 100 people were in attendance, which pleased Boyett. “Today Cancer Alley residents got a chance to tell their stories to a larger audience,” she told me, which was her goal. “I wanted to amplify the voices of people who often don’t feel they are being listened to.” 

A Death in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Reinforces a Small Town’s Fears of Industry Impacts

Read time: 8 mins
Keith Hunter in St. James, Louisiana

Sixty-year-old Keith Hunter lived in St. James, Louisiana, for roughly 27 years, and during that time, he watched as the sugarcane farms gave way to oil storage tanks and as a railroad terminal was being built down the road, all visible from his front yard. Hunter was an outspoken critic of the industrialization of his neighborhood. And in a similar fashion as some of his neighbors, Hunter died on February 10 following a respiratory illness.

New Orleans Approves Natural Gas Power Plant Despite Environmental Racism and Climate Concerns

Read time: 9 mins
Opponents of Entergy's proposed natural gas power plant pack the March 8 New Orleans City Council meeting

Despite hearing over four hours of public comments mostly in opposition, New Orleans City Council recently approved construction of a $210 million natural gas power plant in a predominantly minority neighborhood. Entergy is proposing to build this massive investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in a city already plagued by the effects of climate change. 

Choosing a gas plant over renewable energy options flies in the face of the city’s own climate change plan and the mayor’s support for the Paris Climate Accord, said several of the plant’s opponents at the heated meeting when City Council ultimately voted to approve the plant.

Concerned Citizens in Cancer Alley Vow to Ramp up Battle Against Industrial Pollution in 2018

Read time: 7 mins
Robert Taylor next to an EPA air monitor

This past year in Louisiana’s St. John the Baptist Parish, a small group of residents began organizing their community to compel the state to protect them against an invisible menace: the air they breathe. Their parish, the Louisiana equivalent of a county, is situated in what’s known as Cancer Alley, an industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that hosts more than 100 petrochemical factories.

At the helm of the battle is the Concerned Citizens of St. John, a diverse group of parish residents pushing back against the area’s historically bad — and worsening — industrial pollution. “One thing we all have in common is a desire for clean air,” the group’s founder, Robert Taylor, told me. Next year, the burgeoning group plans to get political and broaden its reach by banding together with similar groups in the region.

Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Residents Sue Chemical Plant for Nearly 50 Years of Air Pollution

Read time: 10 mins
Three African American men in red t-shirts from the Concerned Citizens of St. John Louisiana stand by a sign warning of cancer risk from chloroprene emissions

If you drive along one of the main streets in Louisiana’s St. John the Baptist Parish, you may encounter a large sign warning about chloroprene in the air. These signs let people know that chemical emissions from the nearby DuPont facility, now owned by Denka, can greatly increase the risk of cancer for those who live around it. 

We are being killed by chemicals that the state is allowing Denka and DuPont to pollute our air with,” Robert Taylor, founder of Concerned Citizens of St. John, told me while the group posted the signs. “Putting up signs is one of the steps we are taking, so that later no one can say they didn’t know we are being poisoned.”

Taylor, a 76-year-old retired general contractor, is one of 13 plaintiffs suing Denka Performance Elastomer and E.I. du Pont de Nemours (DuPont), the companies responsible for the chloroprene emissions fouling the air in LaPlace and nearby towns for 48 years. The plant is located along the Mississippi River on a stretch of land between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as Cancer Alley. 

Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Residents Push Back Against Industrial Polluters

Read time: 9 mins
Concerned citizens sit with signs at a DEQ permit hearing in St. Gabriel

A group of residents in St. Gabriel, a suburb of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is no stranger to industrial pollution. The small town is on the banks of the Mississippi River in a stretch of land between New Orleans and Baton Rouge containing more than 100 petrochemical factories. To the industry, it’s known as the “Petrochemical Corridor,” but to everyone else it’s “Cancer Alley.” This fact is fueling a local drive to stop any new industrial plans that would add to the area’s already heavy pollution burden.

The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) has been assisting the Citizens for a Better St. Gabriel, a citizens group formed with the goal of halting one such company from expanding operations in their neighborhood. 

One Community’s Fight for Clean Air in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

Read time: 9 mins
Denka's chloroprene plant in Louisiana

It doesn’t take carefully calibrated measurements to realize there is something wrong with the air around the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. 

From a small plane, I photographed the petrochemical manufacturing facility, until recently owned by DuPont, noting its proximity to the community around its fence line. The emissions were horrible. Breathing them while circling the plant twice left me with a headache that lingered for hours.

The surrounding communities and I were inhaling emissions of chloroprene and 28 other chemicals, which the plant uses to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene.

Louisiana's Drowning: Follow our Photographer's Journey Capturing Hope and Loss in Historic Flood

Read time: 7 mins

The largest flooding event in Louisiana’s history — and the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — is not over.

As I write, new areas in the southern part of the state are taking on water from rising creeks and bayous. 

Last Friday, the greater Baton Rouge area received more than 30 inches of rain in less than 48 hours. Many rivers crested at record-breaking heights, and the run-off from those rivers is now flooding areas further to the south. 

On Monday, three days after the rain event began, I flew with the Louisiana National Guard in a Black Hawk helicopter to survey the flood damage. From the air, I was able to take in the vast reach of the disaster.

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