Black Louisiana residents file lawsuit alleging an environmental and public health emergency

Photo: 2023 Antonia Juhasz/Human Rights Watch

Residents of the predominantly black St. James Parish in the US state of Louisiana have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that an “environmental and public health emergency” is taking place. The lawsuit calls for an end to heavy industry, as well as fossil fuel extraction, in the area. The plaintiffs claim that “a legacy of slavery and white supremacy in Louisiana and St. James Parish specifically” has resulted “in some of the most polluted, toxic – and lethal – census tracts in the country.”

There are approximately 200 industrial plants in the area, stretching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, which has become known as “Cancer Alley” due to the high risk to residents of developing cancer. Over the last five decades, numerous new industrial projects have been approved in majority black areas of St. James Parish, while none have gone ahead in majority white areas.

Plaintiff Barbara Washington of Inclusive Louisiana stated: “Every one of us has had stories about our own health and health of our relatives and friends who have had cancer, respiratory conditions, burning of our eyes and skin conditions, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], and chronic coughs. Today it’s time to stop packing our neighborhoods with plants that produce toxic chemicals and pollute our air and water.”

More information about the lawsuit can be found on the website of Human Rights Watch.