A $9.4 billion plant in Louisiana that was planned by Formosa Plastics in 2018 would have made polymer and ethylene glycol, polyethylene, and polypropylene—ingredients found in antifreeze, drainage pipes, and a variety of single-use plastics. Two 11th Hour Project grantees successfully prevented the construction of this petrochemical facility, which would have been located next to an already overburdened Black community. “The concentration of carcinogens in the atmosphere could triple,” writes Anya Groner in The Atlantic.

The proposed chemical plant was responsible for the creation of our grantee RISE St. James:

“It hurt me like an arrow through my body,” [Sharon] Lavigne told me when I visited her at her home in Welcome, Louisiana, last December. “Everyone else was saying we had to move.” Within a few months of learning about the Sunshine Project in spring 2018, Lavigne, who’s 69, organized a community meeting in her den. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Lavigne said. “We not gonna be moved out and bought out and throwed out the window.” The group went on to found Rise St. James, a faith-based nonprofit with the mission of halting industrial development in the parish. “I was not a person who would speak up,” Lavigne said. “Boy, did that change.” That fall, Lavigne was spending so much time organizing marches and speaking publicly about Formosa that, after 39 years of teaching, she retired. Then two of Rise’s members died—one of cancer, the other of respiratory distress and other medical problems, conditions Lavigne links to pollution from existing plants. Stopping Formosa became her full-time job.

Later the article quotes the leader of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, another 11th Hour Project grantee, who discusses “cancer alley” more broadly:

 “St. James Parish, on its face, is hunky-dory: fifty-fifty Black and white,” Anne Rolfes, the founder and director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit that partners with fence-line communities to advocate for environmental rights, said during the aforementioned bike tour. “However, the African American population is mostly at one end of the parish, in the Fourth and Fifth Districts. And where do you think the land-use plans put all the petrochemical plants?” Lavigne lives in the Fifth District, where nine plants are in operation, two are under construction, and four more, including Formosa’s megaplex—which itself includes 14 unique facilities—are proposed. This concentration of industry is enabled by zoning laws. Typically, land-use plans separate residential areas from industrial ones, but in 2014, the St. James Parish council voted to change river-adjacent sections of the Fourth and Fifth districts from “residential” to “residential/future industrial.” “The council will fight to keep the petrochemical plants out of the white districts, but they roll out the red carpet … when it comes to the Fourth and Fifth” Districts, Rolfes said. 

Chart of petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River in relation to plantations along the river in 1858.
“Overlay a map of southern Louisiana’s petrochemical and petroleum plants with archival maps of the area’s plantations, and you’ll find that in many cases the property lines match up. Like the plantations and land owners who came before them, petrochemical plants and their leadership have emerged as a new kind of “boss,” determining what happens to the land and the people who live there.” Credit: Klara Auerbach

Read the entire article.

Related reading: Our grantee Sharon Lavigne of Rise St James won the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize, which was established in 1989 by the late Rhoda and Richard Goldman of San Francisco to honor environmental work they felt was overlooked by the Nobel Prize and other major awards. 

In The New Yorker, Eliza Griswold chronicles the stories of teens and young adults who have passed away from a rare cancer, and their families’ efforts (supported by many 11th Hour Project partners) to prove the link to fracking