EPA Investigates Environmental Racism in "Cancer Alley"
The EPA has started investigating Louisiana state agencies for permitting industrial pollution in St. John and St. James Parishes, otherwise known as “Cancer Alley.” Because the communities surrounding these industrial facilities are predominantly Black, the EPA is now assessing whether the high pollution levels authorized by the state are in violation of residents’ civil rights.
Two permits are of particular concern. One is for a neoprene facility, the other is for a proposed plastic site. Both emit carcinogenic pollutants with the former releasing chloroprene and the latter releasing ethylene oxide. Robert Taylor, Concerned Citizens of St. John’s president, told the Guardian: “We need this investigation from the perspective of racial injustice. It is so obvious what’s happening is discriminatory.”
CGTN America: Environmental racism in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley,’ October 2, 2021.
AP: EPA chief visits 'cancer alley' on 3-state tour, December 7, 2021.
Why This Matters
This investigation is groundbreaking because it explicitly addresses environmental racism as a civil rights issue. Cancer Alley is only one example -- Black Americans are exposed to more pollution than any other racial group. An analysis from JustAir Solutions found that in the city of Grand Rapids, MI, the neighborhood with the highest non-white population had the worst air quality.
Pollution is deadly, which makes this issue particularly urgent. A study published earlier this year found that nearly nine out of ten people who live in cities across the world breathe polluted air at unsafe levels annually. Meanwhile, another study confirmed that pollution from fracking leads to premature deaths in senior citizens.
Greenpeace: What is Environmental Racism?, March 19, 2021.
MSNBC: New EPA Plan Cracks Down On Pollution In Communities Of Color, January 27, 2022.
"Impartial and Unbiased?"
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), which authorized the permits under investigation, claims it acted in an “impartial and unbiased” way. The department told the Guardian: “LDEQ handles all issues with a fair and equitable approach. LDEQ will work with EPA to resolve this matter.”
The results of this case could reverberate across the nation. Darryl Malek-Wiley, a senior organizer with the Sierra Club, told the Guardian that this inquiry is “a groundbreaking case looking at how LDEQ issues permits and doesn’t identify the impact on African American, low-income communities despite placing them a risk.”
Meanwhile, activists in other states are also organizing against pollution in Black communities. In Randolph, AZ, locals are fighting the expansion of a nearby natural gas plant, which is sure to emit dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.
Now This: A Look at Cancer Alley From the Front Lines, September 22, 2021.
VICE: Cancer Alley, November 14, 2021.
Vox: One reason why coronavirus hits Black people the hardest, May 22, 2020.