Is Cancer Alley Still a Thing?

Cancer Alley, a stretch of land along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, has long been notorious for its high concentration of petrochemical plants and associated health risks. The region earned its ominous nickname due to the prevalence of cancer among its residents, which has been linked to the industrial pollution from these facilities. But is Cancer Alley still a thing today? The answer is a resounding yes, and perhaps even more so than before.

A Historical Perspective

Cancer Alley encompasses about 85 miles of industrial corridor housing over 150 petrochemical plants and refineries. The rise of this industrial powerhouse began in the mid-20th century, as companies capitalized on the region’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the availability of raw materials, and favorable economic conditions. Over the decades, the local economy has benefited from job creation and economic activity spurred by these industries. However, the environmental and health costs have been significant.

Environmental and Health Concerns

The environmental impact of Cancer Alley is profound. The region suffers from air and water pollution due to the emissions and waste products of the petrochemical plants. Communities within Cancer Alley, many of which are predominantly low-income and African American, have reported high rates of cancer, respiratory diseases, and other health issues. Studies have shown that the levels of toxic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, and other carcinogens in the air are alarmingly high.

A 2018 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlighted that the residents of Cancer Alley face some of the highest cancer risks in the nation due to air pollution. The area’s pollution levels have often exceeded federal safety standards, contributing to an ongoing public health crisis.

Recent Developments

In recent years, the situation in Cancer Alley has garnered renewed attention. Activists, community leaders, and environmental organizations have intensified their efforts to bring national and international awareness to the plight of the residents. Legal actions have been taken against some companies for violating environmental regulations, and there have been calls for stricter enforcement of existing laws and the implementation of more stringent standards.

In 2021, the Biden administration signaled a commitment to addressing environmental justice issues, including those in Cancer Alley. The administration's Justice40 initiative aims to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities. While this is a promising development, the tangible impact on Cancer Alley remains to be seen.

The Ongoing Struggle

Despite increased awareness and some policy shifts, the residents of Cancer Alley continue to live under the shadow of industrial pollution. The economic dependence on the petrochemical industry creates a complex situation where job security and health risks are in a constant state of tension. Efforts to diversify the local economy and transition to cleaner industries are necessary but face significant challenges.

Moreover, the legal and regulatory framework governing industrial pollution often falls short of providing adequate protection for the affected communities. While companies may face fines and penalties, these measures are often insufficient to deter ongoing violations or to address the cumulative health impacts experienced by residents.


Cancer Alley remains a stark example of environmental injustice in the United States. The legacy of industrial pollution continues to affect the health and well-being of its residents. While there have been positive steps towards addressing the issue, much more needs to be done to ensure that the people of Cancer Alley can live in a safe and healthy environment. Comprehensive policy changes, robust enforcement of environmental regulations, and a concerted effort to support economic diversification are essential to making meaningful progress.

As of today, Cancer Alley is still very much a thing. The fight for clean air, safe water, and environmental justice for its residents is ongoing, demanding persistent attention and action from all levels of government, industry, and civil society.