Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

cancer_alley

Due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the oil rigs located there, Louisiana has become a hotspot for industrial petrochemical companies such as Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Dow Chemical, and others. While these chemical plants are responsible for creating the building blocks of many products that we use every day, some Louisiana residents believe that pollution from these plants has contributed to the state’s high cancer rate, nicknaming it “Cancer Alley.”

There is an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. This is a strategic location for chemical plants-close to two large cities as well as next to a major source of transportation. Thus, it is no wonder that over 130 industrial plants have sprouted in this area, right next to many small, low-income neighborhoods.

However, neighbors in this area soon began to experience higher rates of cancer than normal, which led them to nickname this stretch of development “cancer alley.” In fact, in 2002, Louisiana had the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States.

Incidentally, in a 2000 Toxic Release Inventory report performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government found that Louisiana also ranked second in the U.S. for total onsite releases of chemicals and pollutants. Additionally, the state was fourth for combined onsite and offsite releases. A staggering seven out of the ten top on- and offsite chemical releasing plants in Louisiana are located in cancer alley. Four out of the top ten onsite polluters are in cancer alley.

Besides regular pollutants, these chemical plants have also been known to have spills, such as Condea Vista. This corporation’s plant admitted to 90 spills in a single year, and it was penalized for releasing 19 to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride into the environment. Frighteningly, this chemical may be a human carcinogen, perhaps giving credibility to the residents’ claims of living in cancer alley.

Sadly, when you live near a chemical plant, chemical pollutants are not the only dangers you face. In many older plants, asbestos was utilized as an insulation to protect against heat, flame, electricity, and chemicals. As the plants age, they can release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled or ingested. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen that can cause problems such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

If you have lived or worked in an area that contained many chemical plants, you should talk to your doctor today about cancer testing.

by James Witherspoon

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