History of Cancer Alley


" Something is rotten in the state of Louisiana. It is the stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and just south of New Orleans. Locals call it Cancer Alley" Barbara Koeppel, The Nation


A specific region of the lower Mississippi River has become widely recognized for the cases of environmental health injustices. Cancer Alley is located along the River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Prior to the arrivals of the industrial plants in the 18th and 19th centuries, cotton and sugarcane plantations dominated the area (Berry, 2001). Petrochemical plants and refineries began to take over the area in the early 20th century. In 1909, Standard Oil (now Exxon) established a refinery in Baton Rouge and industries improved the economy of the communities. However, the prosperity came at the cost of the community’s health. According to the Louisiana Office of Conservation in the 1980’s, the oil refineries were leaching toxic chemicals into the “fertile rice belt in Cajun country” and local groundwater (Berry, 2001).

Community activists in the 1980s coined the term Cancer Alley, which refers to the health effects suspected to be caused by the chemical, nuclear, and petrochemical plants located in the communities along the lower Mississippi River. These communities are exposed regularly to high levels of toxic emissions that are associated with various types of cancers, birth defects, asthma, and bronchitis (Koeppel, 1999).