UN human rights experts say environmental racism in Louisiana cancer aisle must end

United Nations human rights officials released a report on Tuesday condemning environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where the predominantly black population breathes heavily polluted air through a growing corridor of petrochemical plants.

Once the plantation site where generations of enslaved African laborers toiled and died, the 85-mile stretch along the lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has served for decades as an industrial hub, with nearly 150 petroleum refineries, plastics and chemicals factories. facilities.

The region is also home to the descendants of these bonded laborers, who studies Display suffered and died of cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases at rates higher than in most countries, and higher than Louisiana as a whole. The risk of cancer from air pollution in the hallway is 95% higher than in most countries, and during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates from the virus soared in arrow.

Giles Clarke via Getty Images

Smoke rises from one of the many chemical factories in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area on October 12, 2013. Cancer Alley is one of the most polluted areas in 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, the right to an adequate level. living and cultural rights, ”said UN experts in the report.

The conclusion of an international body known for its investigations into repression of protests in Myanmar, torture in Afghanistan, and assassination attempts against Russian opposition leaders highlights the seriousness of the problem in the most powerful rich country in the world. The human rights office last criticized the United States for racist police violence last week, reiterating concerns it raised during protests last summer over the murder by George Floyd.

Until the US Army Corps of Engineers suspends permits in November, Taiwanese industrial giant Formosa Plastics Corp. was building what would have been one of the largest plastics manufacturing plants in the world in the region. The project, approved in 2018, is said to have more than doubled cancer risks in St. James Parish, where census data shows about half of the population is black and nearly 17% are below the threshold. poverty.

But using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the UN researchers found that cancer risks for predominantly black parts of the parish were up to 105 cases per million people, while areas where the population was predominantly white ranged from 60 cases to 75 cases per million.

As more and more petrochemical factories open, the UN report estimated that the combined emissions of carbon dioxide per year in a single parish would exceed those of 113 countries.

A house along the long stretch of River Road near the Mississippi River and the many chemical plants on October 12, 2013. & nbsp;

Giles Clarke via Getty Images

A house along the long stretch of River Road by the Mississippi River and the many chemical factories on October 12, 2013.

Efforts over the past year by Louisiana lawmakers to quell protests from vibrant community activist groups in the pollution-plagued region were not mentioned in the report. In May, the state legislature passed a bill that would have required judges to impose a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence with hard labor on protesters convicted of trespassing on industrial property or infrastructure. This could include almost anywhere in a state with 125,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines.

But lawyers for St. James Parish took the threat personally. For years, community groups that included descendants of enslaved black workers had protested against plans to build the Formosa Plastic Factory on the site of an unmarked slave cemetery. If police arrested them in a routine spiritual ceremony to honor the dead and demand a special designation for the area, the bill would have subjected them to severe penalties.

“It’s just a return to slavery,” Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, told HuffPost at the time. “They are dirty dogs. Dirty and dirty dogs.

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) vetoed the bill. But similar legislation appears in other states.


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