“If I die, I’m going to die standing. If I die, I’m going to die speaking the truth.”
The SOYMB blog has previously posted about Cancer Alley.
85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — aptly nicknamed Cancer Alley — is a stark example. Thanks to petrochemical pollution there, Louisiana at one point suffered the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States, with some localities near chemical plants getting cancer from air pollution at 700 times the national average. This is no accident: Corporations deliberately target places like Cancer Alley because they’re home to socially and economically disadvantaged people whom the corporations assume can’t fight back. The people living there were the least likely to protest having their health put at risk.
We are not at all surprised that the area is once again the subject to plans to increase the concentration of industrial plants there. There is again a proposed plastics manufacturing facility. The sprawling, $9.4bn site pushed by the Taiwanese petrochemicals giant Formosa, would consist of 14 separate plants across 2,300 acres of land and, if approved, would be allowed to roughly double the amount of toxic emissions in the parish from 1.6m lb to 3.2m. The proposed construction, ironically known as the Sunshine Project, has won the support of local and state officials, including Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, with the promise of 1,200 permanent jobs as well as thousands of temporary construction jobs. It would be built in the parish’s fifth district, which is 85% African American.
Civil rights leader, the Rev William Barber, said, “It comes down to greed. You could take an area like Cancer Alley and focus on things that would fix the environment and put people to work cleaning up the mess. But it’s almost as if people decide ‘we just want money’. And then they decide who can we make the money off of that will give us the least resistance. It’s evil economics.”
Reserve, in neighbouring St John the Baptist parish, has the highest risk of cancer due to airborne toxicity anywhere in the USA. The primary cause of this elevated risk is emissions from a synthetic rubber plant, the Pontchartrain Works facility, operated by the Japanese chemicals giant Denka. The plant is the only place in America to emit the compound chloroprene, listed by the EPA as a “likely carcinogen”.
“If you go into these parishes where [the petrochemical industry] already exists, people understand there is a problem, so I think we have public opinion on our side,” said Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a not-for-profit environmental justice group involved in the protests. “The gap that we have is people believing they can do something about it and I think that part of this is building excitement, building camaraderie, and then really looking at our strategies and our tactical plans for succeeding,” she said.