Cancer Alley - St. James Parish, LA

Convent, LA - Feb. 27, 2019 - Barbara and Eddie Washington stand in their yard on Pleasant Hill Street with the Nucor Steel plant looming in the distance. ORG XMIT: Cancer Alley

Last month, I marched from New Orleans to Baton Rouge with CADA, Coalition Against Death Alley, in protest of environmental injustice in communities surrounded by petrochemical plants and toxic industry.

I met and listened to residents in Gordon Plaza and Gert Town whose homes are built on a toxic landfill and radioactive material. I went to Reserve, where 411 students at 5th Ward Elementary are exposed to cancer-causing chloroprene emissions. I visited the graveyard of Plaquemines residents whose loved ones’ graves are surrounded by Dow Chemical. Residents from Mossville in Lake Charles joined the march to tell their story of how their community has been decimated by Sasol petrochemical plant. And as I listened to all these stories, I realized that we all had a common denominator: injustice.

I live in St. James Parish on the bank of the Mississippi in Convent. My home is a half a mile from Nucor Steel, 1.7 miles from Zen-Noh Grain Corporation, 1.9 miles from Convent Marine Terminal, two miles from Occidental Chemical, 2.5 miles from Millennium Galvanizing, 2.9 miles from Mosaic Fertilizer, and three miles from Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. and Motiva Refinery. All of these plants collectively contribute to toxic air pollution that we are forced to breathe daily.

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We in St. James Parish have some of the highest rates of cancer in the United States. I have witnessed the deaths of so many loved ones, and too many of my friends have cancer and chronic respiratory problems. Industry and pollution never sleep where I live. We hear noise from the train tracks and barges in the Mississippi River. We smell terrible odors.

As we organize to stop more plants from moving next to our homes, we hope to awaken the consciousness of our younger generations. It is their future we are fighting for, and we need their help. Together we can paint a beautiful future instead of leaving an ugly scar.

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On the last day of our two-week march, Pastor Gregory Manning of Justice and Beyond was arrested. I applaud Pastor Manning because he stood up against the injustices that we all face in Cancer Alley. We need more pastors like him to speak out. The biblical verse 1 Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” More people are joining us every day to rise up and speak out for our right to clean air, clean water, and clean soil. I truly believe that “the will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” We will not be silenced.

Barbara Washington

community organizer, RISE St. James