UN Human Rights Experts: 'Cancer Alley' Pollution is Environmental Racism, Must Be Stopped
A group of human rights experts from the United Nations is calling for the US government to deliver environmental justice, beginning in St. James Parish
Photo by Gines A. Sanchez, Flickr Creative Commons
The well-known struggle of St. James Parish residents against increasing petrochemical pollution has received international attention. On March 2, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner called on the US government to deliver environmental justice to communities across the country, “starting with St. James Parish.”
“Originally called Plantation Country where enslaved Africans were forced to labour, the petrochemical corridor along the lower Mississippi River has not only polluted the surrounding water and air but also subjected its mostly African American residents to cancer, respiratory diseases and other adverse health effects,” a group of UN human rights experts said.
“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.”
Residents of St. James Parish have been fighting against the construction of a new Formosa Plastics factory on the banks of the Mississippi River, in an area commonly known as “Cancer Alley.” The 85-miles stretch is already home to around 150 petrochemical and fossil fuel facilities. Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxic Assessment Map, the experts noted that the addition of the Formosa Plastics plant could push the amount of harmful emissions in the area to exceed those of 113 countries.
In addition, the plant is scheduled to be built on lands that contain at least four ancestral burial grounds.
“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 neighbourhoods have caused,” the experts said. “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.”
RISE St. James, a grassroots organization dedicated to stopping the construction of the Formosa plant cheered the UN’s statement.
“Experts with the United Nations have called for an end to environmental racism in St. James Parish and everywhere in Cancer Alley. We are thankful for their unequivocal opposition to planned plants like Formosa Plastics, YCI Methanol, and South Louisiana Methanol," the group said in a Facebook post. “It is time for President Biden and Gov. Edwards to #StopFormosaPlastics for good, and build a better future for all of us in Cancer Alley.”