Residents in a Louisiana community, known as “Cancer Alley,” have filed a federal lawsuit against St. James Parish, calling decisions to put petrochemical plants in Black neighborhoods racist as they demand new plants be banned. Photo courtesy of Denka Performance Elastomer LLC
March 21 (UPI) -- Residents in a Louisiana community known as "Cancer Alley" have filed a federal lawsuit against St. James Parish, calling decisions to put petrochemical plants in Black neighborhoods racist. They demanded new plants be banned.
A coalition of environmental groups, founded by Black women, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. Eastern District Court in New Orleans. The suit says parish officials "intentionally chose to locate over a dozen enormous industrial facilities in the majority Black 4th and 5th Districts, while explicitly sparing white residents from the risk of environmental harm."
The lawsuit calls for a ban on new petrochemical plants and a ban on expanding existing facilities -- which would be a first in Louisiana -- because of concerns over pollution and adverse health effects.
Residents say the parish approved nearly every petrochemical company request during the past 46 years in order to locate their facilities in majority-Black areas, while rejecting requests to locate them in white areas, the lawsuit states.
In a news conference before the lawsuit was filed, the groups said their requests have been ignored repeatedly, including in 2019 after a number of new facilities were approved by the St. James Parish Council.
"Over and over, St. James Parish has ignored our cries for basic human rights," said Shamyra Lavigne of the group Rise. "Enough is enough."
The groups, filing the lawsuit, said a ban on solar farms was approved by the parish council last year after the mostly white community of Vacherie complained the farms could lower property values and cause damage during hurricanes.
"White residents didn't want solar farms in their backyards because they didn't like the aesthetics," Lavigne said. "But we have petrochemical plants in our backyards, and they're polluting us."
The industrial corridor west of New Orleans, known as "Cancer Alley," has also become a focus of the Biden administration as it works to mitigate the environmental effects of long-term pollution on overburdened communities.
The Justice Department has even taken action against Denka Performance Elastomer LLC over its "unacceptable cancer risk" to neighborhoods near the plant.
While parish leaders say the plants create new jobs, residents say that is not the case as many of the facilities are heavily automated.
"They always promise jobs and economic opportunity, but our neighborhoods don't see any of that," said Barbara Washington of Inclusive Louisiana. "All we see is smoke and smog and smell the pollution."