NO.nata006.091618.jpg

The Union Carbide Plant, near the Holy Rosary Cemetery in St. Charles Parish, photographed Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. The plant produces ethylene oxide, a chemical the EPA says is carcinogenic to humans in certain amounts, over a lifetime of exposure.

In the latest news, the air between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is even more poisonous than we thought, more than a quarter of Louisiana's children live in poverty and a brain-eating amoeba has shown up in the water near Shreveport.

Some mornings it's real hard to be Sunny Jim.

Of the three threats to our well-being currently in the news, the amoeba that feasts on the human noggin is the creepiest. It is not easy for Naeglaria fowleri to find the way in — it has to be present in warm, fresh water that goes up your nose — but once it does you're pretty much a goner.

Only a few cases a year are reported, however, almost all of them in July, August or September. The latest of the unlucky ones, Fabrizio Stabile, 29, died in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago after he went swimming in a pool in Texas.

The risk right now might be slight, but it might be wise to resist any temptation to dive into a Bossier Parish waterway any time soon.

If some director should ever wish to make a movie about a killer lurking in the water, Naeglaria fowleri would be a good choice. Once the amoeba eases up the nasal passage and commences chomping on your brain, an unpleasant death from meningoencephalitis a few days later is virtually assured.

Death from air pollution where the petrochemical plans are clustered along the Mississippi does not come so quickly, but it is evidently just as sure. The parishes downriver from Baton Rouge were christened “Cancer Alley” decades ago, and EPA studies continue to validate the moniker. Nowhere in the country is more at risk from polluted air.

With every breath, St. John the Baptist Parish residents take in the “likely carcinogen” chloroprene, which is released from plants manufacturing synthetic rubber.

It gets worse. The EPA has now established that ethylene oxide is a carcinogen for sure. Used in the production of polyester and antifreeze, it wafts in deadly concentrations through St. Charles Parish and is also suspected of causing brain damage.

You have to watch out for your brains in Louisiana. If Naeglaria fowleri don't get you, ethylene oxide will.

Louisiana is always so desperate for economic development that a seriously elevated health risk is regarded as an acceptable trade-off. Indeed, our response to the contamination of the environment has been to beg for more of it through lavish industrial tax exemptions.

Business and political muckamucks will crow every time a new plant sets up — nowhere near their salubrious neck of the woods, of course — while residents of the polluted zone evidently accept the stink and desolation for the sake of jobs.

Official statistics suggest such sacrifices have not done the trick. Our state unemployment rate is the third highest in the nation at around five percent, and having a job may well not keep the wolf from the door anyway.

Perhaps the working poor will always be with us, given the American disdain for government handouts, but prospects can be particularly bleak in Louisiana. Almost one in five of us lives below the poverty line — only Mississippi is worse off — and more that 17 percent of Louisiana households are deemed “food insecure” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nationwide almost 12 percent of households do not always have enough to eat, which seems a bit of a disgrace in a country as rich as this one.

Louisiana's poor did get a break when Gov. John Bel Edwards liberalized the eligibility criteria for Medicaid, but that stoked Republican fears of socialism to an extent that does not suggest much support for a wider safety net.

Meanwhile, efforts to improve public education will be stymied so long as kids live in underprivileged circumstances. In Louisiana, the child poverty rate is 28 percent, which suggests that we are failing to develop a great deal of intellectual potential. The odds really are stacked against the brain around here.

Email James Gill at Gill1047@bellsouth.net