EPA to invest $600,000 for air pollution monitoring in 'Cancer Alley'

Michael Tortorich
Donaldsonville Chief

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will invest more than $600,000 to procure air pollution monitoring equipment for Louisiana's parishes along the Mississippi River corridor known to some as "Cancer Alley."

According to an EPA release, Administrator Michael S. Regan traveled to the state and met with residents in New Orleans, St. John the Baptist Parish, St. James Parish, and Mossville concerning the impacts of pollution and climate change.

The new Pollution Accountability Team will start as the pilot air monitoring project in Mossville, St. James Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish. The EPA plans to work with residents and community leaders to determine the routes to be traveled by the mobile monitoring vehicle and the contaminants to be monitored. Additionally, EPA Region 6 will make the data available to the public.

The equipment will measure volatile organic compounds, including air toxics, and is expected to improve the EPA’s ability to measure pollution quickly and assess situations in real time. The agency plans to work with local organizations to host trainings for community members to familiarize them with the technology and the process the agency uses for its air monitoring.  

“In every community I visited during the Journey to Justice tour, the message was clear -- residents have suffered far too long, and local, state, and federal agencies have to do better,” Regan stated in the release. “The pollution concerns have been impacting these communities for decades. Our actions will begin to help not only the communities I visited on this tour, but also others across the country who have suffered from environmental injustices.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, right, speaks to reporters at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, a Ridgeland based facility near Jackson, Miss., about longstanding water issues that have plagued the city, on Nov. 15, 2021. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a series of enforcement actions to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other problems in minority communities in three Gulf Coast states that Administrator Michael Regan visited as part of a "Journey to Justice" tour last fall.

The EPA also plans to take actions in neighboring states Texas and Mississippi.

Where is 'Cancer Alley?'

"Cancer Alley" has been the regional nickname used by many environmental activists for the 85-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in southeast Louisiana. The area includes more than 150 petrochemical plants and refineries on both banks of the river.

Activists have pointed to the area's higher cancer risk compared to the national average as the reason for the title.

The Biden administration has pushed for environmental justice initiatives as part of the president's climate agenda, which targets Black, Latino, Indigenous, and poor communities through the nation.

Last June, Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment, St. Charles Parish President Matthew Jewell, and St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne signed a letter to President Biden criticizing the use of the nickname “Cancer Alley.”

“Decades of data compiled by the Louisiana Tumor Registry show that there is no 'cancer alley' in Louisiana,” Jewell wrote at the time.

In the letter, the three parish presidents said the cancer rates in the area were not outliers in comparison to other parts of the state.

The three presidents maintained the economic impact of the industrial corridor has been critical for each parish.