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Louisiana:  A Confluence of Potential Disasters

numerous graves from Hurricane Katrina Figure 1. While damage was unavoidable from the deadly Hurricane Katrina, questions continue to be asked as to whether some of the damage could have been preventable.
Louisiana is an area of the United States that has been in the news regularly since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest hurricanes in history, hit the Gulf Coast region. New Orleans and other parts of southern Louisiana were devastated. As time passed it was a natural disaster that became an environmental disaster that disproportionately impacted already impoverished communities and communities of color. Questions continue to be asked as to who was ultimately responsible for the fragile state of the levee system that broke, and the failure of the emergency response entities to assist those in need in the days and months following the hurricane. Supposedly bureaucratic structures had been put in place to oversee such environmental concerns. One such entity was the Office of Environmental Justice, created under the presidency of George H. W. Bush in 1992. Speaking out on behalf of her community members in an article with the St. Petersburg Times, Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, referred to the seemingly ineffectual office as "...this little thing with no money in a corner of the EPA."

Another area of Louisiana that is a major source of concern for members of the environmental justice movement is an area known as Cancer Alley.

Cancer Alley is a 100 mile stretch of polluted land along the Mississippi River, winding its way to the Gulf Coast. It is probably the worst toxic region in the U.S. The pollution that plagues “Cancer Alley” comes from more than 300 heavy industrial plants which process such toxic chemicals as chlorine, ammonia, and pvc plastics, produce chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and seven oil refineries. The red on the map below represents locations of plants and refineries responsible for pollutants.

If you were thinking about moving to Louisiana and living in one of the communities along this 100 mile stretch, what questions might you ask regarding environmental health risks?

Map of Cancer Alley
Figure 2. This map shows how widespread the polution is in the area known as Cancer Alley.

Extend Your Knowledge

Search a few environmental justice websites and see what other communities are dealing with other environmental issues. Choose one environmental issue you find and compare it to Cancer Alley. What similarities and differences are there?