New “Cancer Alley” Documentary Follows Louisiana Residents in St. James

Stephen Curry wants you to know about the St. James Parish in Louisiana. This parish is part of an 85-mile stretch of land alongside the Mississippi River known to locals as “Cancer Alley.” Curry is producing a documentary about the region located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and its 45,000 residents.

The History of Cancer Alley

Before the economy of Louisiana shifted away from agriculture, these seven parishes were filled with sugar cane plantations and cornfields. To help improve the overall state economy, the Louisiana government welcomed industrial development. This area of the Mississippi River became known as the “chemical corridor” because of the preponderance of chemical plants.

One of these plants was a DuPont factory opened in 1969 to manufacture the chemical chloroprene, which is used to make neoprene, a plastic using in water sports gear, computer accessories, car and truck seat covers, and more. More plants were built, and today there are nearly 150 chemical plants in the area.

In the 1980s, people living in the area began to notice many cases of cancer and miscarriages, often clustered within the same neighborhood.

Newspaper articles in the late 1980s began using the term “cancer alley” to describe sections of the chemical corridor in stories about the high incidence of cancer, birth defects, and pollution-related disease – and the name stuck.

Even though the incidence of disease has been well documented, more plants have continued to move into the area, making it one of the most polluted in the country. The latest Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) noted that people living in the census tract closest to the chloroprene plant (now owned by Japanese company Denka) had a likelihood of developing cancer related to air pollution nearly 50 times the national average. The University Network for Human Rights did further research and found that incidences of cancer were higher the closer residents were to the Denka/DuPont plant, even with voluntary steps taken to reduce pollution levels. Industry leaders have insisted that the pollution levels haven’t led to increases in disease and birth defects — but the facts say otherwise.

In 2019, officials announced yet another plant coming to the area, a $9.4 billion petrochemical company owned by plastics manufacturer Formosa. Residents spoke out against the plant for fear of bringing even more deadly pollution into their homes. The plant construction was paused by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2021 for a full environmental impact study.

New Documentary Explores the Effects of Pollution on this Community

The Cancer Alley documentary will explore the human costs of this industrial development through a lens of racial and environmental justice. Director Brian Tetsuro Ivie learned about the story from a friend. He said he had to make the movie after visiting the area himself because he “had never seen so much death and so much life together in one place.”

Although the full film has not yet been released, Steph Curry posted a clip on his YouTube channel. This portion of the documentary shows interviews with area residents about why they love the area they live in and the ramifications they experience, from daily asthma attacks to cancer, birth defects, and premature death. The film features one group of community activists, Rise St. James, who have fought to prevent the Formosa plant and other developments as well as raise awareness of the issues they and the other parishes in cancer alley experience.

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