Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ Experiencing Dramatic Expansion Despite Deadly Pollution

The Louisiana corridor known as “Cancer Alley” because of the numerous chemical plants and refineries in the area that have been linked to toxic pollution exposure will not be significantly impacted by EPA regulations aimed at reducing emissions of ethylene oxide.

In fact, new plants are already under construction along “Cancer Alley” despite the health risks and concerns about the high concentration of toxic chemicals, according to a report by ProPublica.

More than 150 chemical plants and refineries line the 85-mile long stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and residents have reported substantial health issues from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Too Little Too Late? Louisiana Workers Still Face Dangerous Toxic Exposure

The EPA is requiring companies to reduce their annual airborne emissions of ethylene oxide by 10 tons nationwide. But interviews and records show that the rules will “scarcely make a dent” in emissions of the cancer-causing pollutant.

Ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas used to make chemicals commonly found in plastics, antifreeze, adhesives, and other consumer products.

Exposure to ethylene oxide can result in respiratory and lung problems, headache, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and other health issues. Chronic exposure has been associated with birth defects, mutations, brain damage and cancer.

After a decade-long wait, the EPA in 2016 finally published a final version of its assessment of ethylene oxide and concluded it was 30 times more carcinogenic to people who continuously inhale it as adults and 50 times more carcinogenic to those who are exposed since birth than the agency previously thought.

Health Risks Associated with Ethylene Oxide Chemical Exposure

The chemical, which alters DNA in the human body and increases the risk of certain types of cancer such as leukemia, is particularly harmful to children because their developing bodies can’t mend the genetic damage as effectively as adult bodies, according to ProPublica.

Louisiana refinery workers are especially vulnerable to the health risks associated with exposure, including cancer and the potential for birth defects in their offspring.

Despite this, the area known as “Cancer Alley” is experiencing a dramatic expansion of petrochemical plants in areas that already have very high concentrations of toxic chemicals.

The United Nations has called for the end of new construction in the area and branded pollution issues in the region as a form of environmental racism.

Louisiana has 13 plants that emit enough ethylene oxide that they must report it to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a database maintained by the EPA, ProPublica said. Eleven of the 13 plants are between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, while the other two are near Lake Charles. Between them, the Louisiana plants in 2018 released 27.8 tons of ethylene oxide, about one-fifth of the total produced nationwide.

ProPublica reported that according to the TRI database, the largest emitters of ethylene oxide in Louisiana in 2018 were a Sasol Chemicals facility in Lake Charles, with 8.4 tons; BASF in Geismar, with 7.6 tons; Shell Chemical in Geismar, with 5.2 tons; a Union Carbide plant, with 4 tons; and Dow’s Plaquemine chemical facility, with 1.5 tons.

The EPA regulations were drafted in response to a March 2017 order by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., who ruled that the agency had for years illegally delayed updating its rules requiring pollution reductions under the Clean Air Act. The order gave the EPA three years to comply.

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims alliance understand the pain that families face when coping with life-altering birth defects—and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 30 years of combined experience in birth defects lawsuits involving toxic exposure in Louisiana and beyond. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations who put them in danger. Contact us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.