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Cancer Alley, America's sacrifice zone

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Nov19,2023

Pollution generated by the petrochemical industry is said to be responsible for the abnormal concentration of cancers which affect the populations – predominantly black – living around factories installed along the Mississippi River.

Cancer Alley, the sacrifice zone of the ;United States

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To honor the memory of the many who died due to cancer, Robert Taylor must go to this cemetery surrounded by the buildings of a refinery.

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In his pickup truck, 83-year-old Robert Taylor travels through the rural municipality of Reserve, west of New Orleans. A town of 9,000 inhabitants, surrounded by petrochemical factories.

Robert shows us around his corner of the country, which has changed a lot over the years .

A long time ago, this whole neighborhood was white, but since then, it's been black, he said. And of all the people who live here, many die. In these neighborhoods where is locateda large black population, everyone knows someone who died of cancer or who suffers from cancer.

Around their house , one can't help but notice a pungent smell in the air. However, as Robert has lived here for too long, he doesn't even feel it anymore.

He has lost many members of his family to cancer .

My mother, my brother, my sister, my nieces and nephews, he lists. In all these houses, someone died of cancer. I'm not talking about those who survived… Someone died of cancer in each one. It's terrible.

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A quarter of the petrochemical plants in the United States are concentrated in the “cancer corridor” in Louisiana and Mississippi.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Refineries and petrochemical plants, which are omnipresent in south Louisiana, are the cause, he believes. There are more than 200 in the region, and they represent 25% of US petrochemical production.

On a stretch of road that runs along the river As the Mississippi River winds for more than 80 miles, the air pollution is glaring. No wonder it's called “Cancer Alley” here.

But why are black people affected more than white people by disease?

Whites used to live on waterfront properties along the Mississippi, says researcher Kimberly Terrell of Tulane University in New Orleans. And they were warned when the industry came in and sold their properties to black people who in the 1960s did not have the same access to property.

All of a sudden, all these residences were sold, the demographics changed, and the industry proliferated, she continues.

Janice Ferchaud, a Welcome resident who suffered from breast cancer and is now in remission, blasts the industry.

< p class="Text-sc-2357a233-1 imohSo">They left us here, they didn't want to give us money like they gave the white people for their houses.

A quote from Janice Ferchaud, resident of Welcome, Louisiana

Half of the residents in this area, mostly elderly, cannot keep their children here because there are no jobs, she adds.

She sees her community empty of new blood, frightened by the risks of living here.

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Janice Ferchaud continues her fight to mobilize residents against the industry.

At the center of the “cancer corridor”, in the parishes of St. John and St. James – populated mainly by blacks – cancer has an abnormally high prevalence, due in part to facilities that emit very potent carcinogens, such as chloroprene and ethylene oxide.

The work of Kimberley Terrell (New window) also indicates that black residents of Louisiana suffers industrial emissions 7 to 21 times higher than whites.

When he wants to pay his respects at the graves of the many members of his family lost to cancer, Robert Taylor must go to the small cemetery of Reserve, literally next to a refinery which almost completely surrounds it.

Look at this! It’s completely disrespectful, it’s terrible! he exclaims, in a deafening industrial hubbub.

Impossible to avoid the smell. The ordeal, for Robert, is each time as painful.

Sharon Lavigne, who resides in the municipality of Welcome, tirelessly pursues her fights to push back the petrochemical giants.

She recently succeeded in preventing a plastic factory from setting up in her region.

She speaks outright of a “genocide” committed by the petrochemical industry, accusing it of slowly killing black people.

This is a different form of racism. This is first degree murder.

A quote from Welcome, Louisiana resident Sharon Lavigne

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The wave of cancers plaguing the region has claimed Sharon Lavigne's sister.

To try to understand this cancer epidemic in the region, the director of the Environmental Protection AgencyEPA, Michael Regan, visited the site and even met Robert Taylor.

These communities have the right to be angry, Mr. Regan said in November 2021. He promised to resolve the problem and launched an investigation, but last summer it was abruptly stopped.

I don't understand. They abandoned us.

A quote from Reserve, Louisiana resident Robert Taylor

Kimberly Terrell finds this decision suspect. She believes the EPA backed down because of a lawsuit filed by the state of Louisiana, which enforces regulations in what she considers a lax manner.

Residents of the “cancer corridor” also blame local authorities, parish councils who call the shots for factory development.

They are traitors who have been elected, says Robert Taylor in an accusatory tone.

To the parish council of St. James sit residents who are also employees or retirees of these petrochemical giants.

Jason Amato, for example, has worked for Shell Chemicals for around thirty years. He has only good words for economic development.

The financial impact is enormous, both for parish funds and for the government parish, which funds our school systems, our libraries and our leisure activities, he said.

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The St. James Parish Council is made up of, among others, current or retired employees of the region's petrochemical plants.

Most elected councilors like him brush aside any correlation between pollution and the cancers recorded in the region, an interaction nevertheless demonstrated by the Tulane University study.

They prefer instead to rely on a generic tumor registry with incomplete data, according to Kimberly Terrell.

These reports do not measure pollution, she argues. How can you draw conclusions about the relationship between pollution and cancer if you don't measure pollution?

Alone in the parish council of St. James, Clyde Cooper is trying to make something happen. I am not against the industry, I am against its establishment in certain communities and against the fact that it has repercussions on those who do not benefit from it, he insists. /p>

He tried to put in place a moratorium on the development of the petrochemical industry, while he carried out impact studies. I didn't get the necessary support from the council, he says, visibly disappointed.

Janice Ferchaud is also saddened by the lack of mobilization in her community. All because we have been brainwashed, she claims. Our people are still far behind, and the first thing they say is: “It's not going to stop, we don't count.”

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The cemetery in Reserve, Louisiana, in the heart of the “cancer corridor”

We tried to obtain interviews with various groups of the industry of the region, but without success. We also received a refusal from the Louisiana Department of the Environment.

The fact remains that African-American residents of the “cancer corridor” continue to count their deaths. They try as best they can to honor their memory and fight against pollution for future generations – threatened, perhaps even sacrificed, according to Robert Taylor.

The industry doesn't care; That's why she's here, he says.

At the rate things are going, this sacrifice zone will remain so for a long time, and the victims will continue to suffer in indifference.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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