Updated Apr 21, 2023 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on environmental injustice in Baton Rouge

On Friday, April 21 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Axios Local managing editor Delano Massey and New Orleans reporter Carlie Kollath Wells hosted conversations looking at the challenges and next steps for addressing environmental health risks to the community. Guests included Rep. Troy Carter (D-LA), Louisiana Public Service Commission District 3 Commissioner Davante Lewis, and Center for Planning Excellence president and CEO Camille Manning-Broome. A View from the Top sponsored segment featured American Chemistry Council vice president for regulatory and scientific affairs Dr. Kimberly Wise White.

Rep. Troy Carter explained why a stretch of land in his congressional district has historically been named “Cancer Alley” due to the high amount of air pollution in the area.

  • On the origins of “Cancer Alley”: “So in my congressional district, LA-02, that mantra that you mentioned of a compilation of some 150 petrochemical and heavy industrial plants along the river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, unfortunately also known as Cancer Alley, and a name that has been derived from the fact that so many people have been forced to be exposed to carcinogens that have been released into the air.”

Davante Lewis discussed concerns about the impacts of storms on Louisiana communities that do not have the resources to evacuate on short notice.

  • On issues of safety and home displacement in hurricane season: “I think where I am the most concerned is that we know we are the second poorest state in the nation and we have, for some odd reason, adopted this ability that our message during hurricane season should be ‘get a game plan’, and I think about the constituents I represent in Saint James Parish or Saint John Parish, where they can’t afford to get a game plan. They don’t have a choice. They can’t jump in a car and decide, I’m just going to go to Dallas for an amount of time. Their home becomes the safe haven because it’s the only choice that they have.”

Camille Manning-Broome emphasized how historically marginalized communities have had to bear the brunt of a changing environment and the health risks posed by pollution.

  • On the connection between zip code and life expectancy: “So your zip code is your biggest determinant of your life expectancy. So I can look at your zip code and tell you what your life expectancy might be, and those disparities are pretty stark when you look at people of color. For example, Black men in Louisiana have an average life expectancy of 69 and a half, where the national average is 78 and a half. Obviously, people have been left out of the discussion and how their communities have been built because who would want that?”

In the View from the Top segment, Dr. Kimberly Wise White spoke about using environmental monitoring and data collection to understand climate-related issues in communities.

  • “So you definitely want to understand, but you also want to have the data to support what you’re doing. And so looking at monitoring for example, you want to make sure that whatever the monitoring tools that you’re using are standardized, that they’re high quality, that they’re going to give the agency the information that it needs to be able to make a decision. You also want to make sure that you’re giving the public the information that it needs, so when they see data, that they’re able to rely on that data that is meaningful so they can make decisions about their health and safety.”

Thank you to the American Chemistry Council for sponsoring this event.

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