UN Human Rights Experts Say Environmental Racism In Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Must End

by Jeremy

[United Nations human rights officials issued a report Tuesday condemning environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where the primarily Black population breathes air heavily polluted by an ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants.  Once the site of plantations where generations of enslaved African workers toiled and died, the 85-mile stretch along the lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has for decades served as an industrial hub, with nearly 150 oil refineries, plastics plants, and chemical facilities. 

The area is also home to the descendants of enslaved workers, who have suffered and died from cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases at higher rates than most of the country and more elevated than Louisiana. The risk of cancer from air pollution in the corridor is 95% higher than in most of the country, and during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates from the virus soared. 

Smoke billows from one of many chemical plants in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area Oct. 12, 2013. Cancer Alley is one of the

Smoke billows from one of many chemical plants in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area Oct. 12, 2013. Cancer Alley is one of the most polluted areas of the United States.

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the U.N. experts said in the report

The finding from an international body known for investigations of protest crackdowns in Myanmar, torture in Afghanistan, and assassination attempts on Russian opposition leaders highlight the severity of the issue in the world’s most potent rich country. The human rights office last criticized the United States over racist police violence last week, reiterating concerns it raised during last summer’s protests following the killing of George Floyd. 

Until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended permits in November, Taiwanese industrial giant Formosa Plastics Corp. was building what would have been one of the world’s largest plastic manufacturing plants in the region. The project, approved in 2018, would have more than doubled the cancer risks in St. James Parish, where census data show roughly half the population is Black and nearly 17% falls below the poverty line.

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