UN experts: Industry growth exacerbates environmental racism

Staff Report

Additional industry along the Mississippi River from the Baton Rouge to New Orleans areas would exacerbate environmental racism due to the proximity to Black communities, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. 

The 84-mile, seven-parish stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is home to at least 150 plants.

In a March 2 release, UN human rights experts expressed concern about further industrialization of southern Louisiana, referring to the area as “Cancer Alley.”

The release pointed to the area’s history as plantation country, where enslaved Africans were forced into labor.

According to the experts, the lower Mississippi River area has been polluted, and the high population of Black residents have experienced cancer, respiratory diseases, and adverse health effects.

“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, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the release stated.

In 2018, the St. James Parish Council approved the “Sunshine Project,” which would be one of the largest plastics facilities in the world to be developed by FG LA LLC, a subsidiary company of Formosa Plastics Group. The council also approved plans to build methanol complexes by YCI Methanol One and South Louisiana Methanol.

According to the release, the Formosa complex would “double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents.”

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxic Assessment map, the cancer risks in the districts in St. James could be at 104 and 105 cases per million, while other districts' populations could have a cancer risk ranging from 60 to 75 per million.

The release went on to state the construction of the new petrochemical complexes will exacerbate the environmental pollution and the disproportionate adverse effect on “the rights to life, to an adequate standard of living and the right to health of African American communities.” 

“The African American descendants of the enslaved people who once worked the land are today the primary victims of deadly environmental pollution that these petrochemical plants in their neighborhoods have caused,” the release stated. “We call on the United States and St. James Parish to recognize and pay reparations for the centuries of harm to Afro-descendants rooted in slavery and colonialism.”

The 84-mile, seven-parish corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is home to at least 150 petrochemical plants.