Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" and COVID-19

Published on May 06, 2020
by La Louisiana Bucket Brigade

2012: “Petrochemical Landscape,” Kate Orff, Orff/Misrach, ​Petrochemical America.

2012: “Petrochemical Landscape,” Kate Orff, Orff/Misrach, ​Petrochemical America. Courtesy of Kate Orff.

Happening Now in New Orleans: Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" and COVID-19

On April 7, 2020 VICE.com published a story on "Cancer Alley" and how long-standing environmental issues were impacting COVID-19. According to VICE, "Cancer Alley," a heavily polluted area which runs along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, has been making residents sick for years due to toxic chemicals in the air stemming from the region's numerous industrial plants and lax environmental regulations. Now it is the location of some of the highest death rates in the country from coronavirus.

Image courtesy of Brett Anderson.

"Cancer Alley" is made up of predominantly black communities. The article points out that "African Americans account for 70 percent of all of the deaths in Louisiana so far. They make up just 32 percent of the population.

“Besides suffering with the virus, we gotta be concerned about more industry because we’re right next to the plant right here,” said [Mary] Hampton, who at 80 years old, has spent years fighting the Denka plant and other petrochemical facilities in the area as president of the community group Concerned Citizens of St. John. “It’s as if the government doesn’t even care how many people are dying.

In 2015, the EPA found that the area near the Denka plant had the highest risk of air pollution-caused cancer in the country, nearly 50 times the national average. The other plants lining the 85-mile industrial stretch from New Orleans to Baton Rouge known as “Cancer Alley” have been linked to numerous health problems in the communities pressed up against their fences. As companies continue to develop new facilities with the support of pro-business politicians, Hampton’s long list of family members, neighbors, and friends who’ve died from cancer grows.

And now, her list of friends and family getting sick with the coronavirus is growing, too: her sister’s daughter-in-law, her son-in-law, her nephew’s ex-wife. Her cousin died from the virus in late March, a friend’s husband died last week, a husband and wife in her neighborhood died a few days ago."

Read the full article on VICE here: 'Cancer Alley' Has Some of the Highest Coronavirus Death Rates in the Country

Learn more about environmental issues in Louisiana here: Standing Up on River Road: Activism in South Louisiana

Watch the video below to hear a firsthand account from one of the residents of "Cancer Alley," Eve Butler.

2019: No Gardens, Eve Butler, Women of Cancer Alley series. By Eve Butler. Courtesy of Louisiana Bucket Brigade.