Inside Louisiana’s horrifying ‘Cancer Alley,’ an 85-mile stretch of pollution and environmental racism that’s now dealing with some of the highest coronavirus death rates in the country

Smoke billows from one of many chemical plants in the area October 12, 2013. Giles Clarke/Getty

By: James Pasley

 Apr 9, 2020, 8:42 PM

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting people living inside ‘Cancer Alley’ hard.

Surrounded by smokestacks, ‘Cancer Alley’ is one of the most polluted places in America. It got its name through the high number of people living with cancer in the alley, which runs for about 85 miles along the Mississippi River, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. It’s made up of a dense concentration of oil refineries and petrochemical plants that run alongside suburbs and vulnerable communities. 

There, people don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. According to ProPublica, they see cancer everywhere.

Rolling Stone called it the “frontline of environmental racism.”

According to the CDC, COVID-19 cases are more severe for people with health conditions aggravated by pollution. Vice reported on April 8, St Johns the Baptist Parish had the highest death rate per capita of any county in the US, with 24 deaths. St James Parish, not far away, had the fourth-highest death rate with six deaths.

But while residents think the industry is responsible for health problems, it’s hard to prove a causal link.

As environmental reporter Sharon Lerner wrote for The New York Times, “Even when there is severe suffering and a seemingly obvious culprit, it’s often impossible to pin blame on any single cause.”