Cancer Alley

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A mound of oil drums near the Baton Rouge ExxonMobil Refinery along the Mississippi River in December 1972.

Cancer Alley (French: Allée du Cancer) is an area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, in the River Parishes of Louisiana, which contains numerous industrial plants. Locations in this area with clusters of cancer patients have been covered by the news media, leading to the "Cancer Alley" moniker.


In 1987, some residents in the tiny community of St. Gabriel, Louisiana, called Jacobs Drive, the street on which they lived "cancer alley" because of fifteen cancer cases in a two-block stretch. Half a mile away, there were seven cancer victims living on one block. The eighty-five-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans was formerly referred to as the "petrochemical corridor" but after media coverage of cancer victims in the small rural communities on both sides of the river, the entire area became known as Cancer Alley.

In 2002, Louisiana had the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States. While the national average is 206 deaths per 100,000, Louisiana's rate was 237.3 deaths per 100,000. At the same time, the death rate from cancer in the area dubbed Cancer Alley was lower than the rest of Louisiana, as well as the national average.[1]

In 2000, Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data showed that Louisiana ranked second throughout the nation for total onsite releases, third for total releases within the state, and fourth for total on- and offsite releases. Louisiana, which has a population of 4,469,970 people, produced 9,416,598,055 pounds of waste in 2000. Seven of the ten plants in the state with the largest combined on- and offsite releases are located in Cancer Alley, and four of the ten plants with the largest onsite releases in the state are located there.[2][3]

Cancer studies[edit]

In a peer-reviewed study by scientists at the Shell Oil Company, they found that the cancer rate in this area was lower than state and national averages, though as Shell is one of the corporations that owns plants in the area, this study could potentially be considered a conflict of interest.[1]

A peer-reviewed study by Frederic T. Billings III, M.D., found that while Louisiana has a much higher-than-average lung cancer rate, the source is not the "Cancer Alley" parishes, but the other parishes of Louisiana, where above-average tobacco smoking rates are likely the cause of the vast majority of the cancers.[4]

In their 2012 book Petrochemical America, photographer Richard Misrach and Columbia University architecture professor Kate Orff explore the social, environmental, and health impacts of the petrochemical industry in Cancer Alley through photography, writing, and infographic-style illustrations.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tsai SP, Cardarelli KM, Wendt JK, Fraser AE (April 2004). "Mortality patterns among residents in Louisiana's industrial corridor, USA, 1970–99". Occup Environ Med. 61 (4): 295–304. doi:10.1136/oem.2003.007831. PMC 1740760Freely accessible. PMID 15031386. 
  2. ^ Centers for Disease Control. (2002). Cancer Prevention and Control "Cancer Burden Data Fact Sheets, Louisiana." Atlanta, GA.
  3. ^ Coyle, Marcia. (1992). "Company Will Not Build Plant: Lawyers Hail Victory." The National Law Journal, October 19, p. 3.
  4. ^ Billings FT (2005). "Cancer corridors and toxic terrors—is it safe to eat and drink?". Trans. Am. Clin. Climatol. Assoc. 116: 115–24; discussion 125. PMC 1473137Freely accessible. PMID 16555610. 
  5. ^ Ottinger, Gwen, Ellen Griffith Spears, Kate Orff, and Christopher Lirette. "Petrochemical America, Petrochemical Addiction." Southern Spaces, November 26, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nitzkin JL (April 1992). "Cancer in Louisiana: a public health perspective". J La State Med Soc. 144 (4): 162. PMID 1613306. 
  • The documentary film "Fuel" by Josh Tickell. []

External links[edit]