The Petrochemical Problem: Factors Driving the Existence of Cancer Alley, Louisiana




Desai, Yash

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The region of Southern Louisiana stretching from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, along the Mississippi River, is nicknamed Cancer Alley, due to the disproportionately high cancer rates observed within the region. This thesis is a narrative literature review that analyzes the scientific literature and the raw data that have been published regarding some of the major causes of this pathology, as well as the link between said causes and the existence of Cancer Alley. Specifically, this analysis finds that the large presence of the petrochemical industry within this region, and the consequent sustained environmental pollution on part of petrochemical plants, contributes to the disparate outcomes in cancer incidence that are observed within Cancer Alley. Moreover, the analysis finds that these disparities occur quite heavily along racial and socioeconomic lines, with the brunt of the burden being borne by predominantly low-income and predominantly-Black neighborhoods, where air toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde have a higher presence. The analysis also finds that the petrochemical industry partakes in said environmental pollution with relative impunity, due to the industry’s size and political power, which renders residents powerless against the industry’s lobby. The findings of this analysis could prove significant in that they may spark some level of discussion that will not only politically empower marginalized communities that are victimized by environmental injustice, but may also lead to safety and environmental regulations on the petrochemical industry within the region.


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