The smell of “Cancer Alley”

The smell of “Cancer Alley”

President Joe Biden’s recent use of the words “Cancer Alley” to describe the petrochemical corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge has created a predictable kerfuffle over how much of the blame for Louisiana’s high rates of cancer should fall on industrial polluters. A Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate editorial says the science is inconclusive: 

Does Louisiana have a “cancer alley” problem? Absolutely, but it goes way beyond industrial development. It is rooted in poverty and bad habits and lack of access to health care, as well as the obvious contribution of a century of industrial development and its accompanying pollution.

But Tammy Carter Barney of the LA Illuminator writes that the facts are as clear as the nose on your face:

In 2000, Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data showed that Louisiana ranked second in the nation for total onsite toxic releases, third for total releases within the state, and fourth for total on- and offsite releases. Seven of the 10 plants in the state with the largest combined on- and offsite releases are located in Cancer Alley. Four of the 10 plants with the largest onsite releases in the state also are located there. In 2002, Louisiana had the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States. While the national average is 206 deaths per 100,000, Louisiana’s rate was 237.3 deaths per 100,000. The same study says that among people of color, incidences of stomach cancer, diabetes and heart disease were significantly higher in our industrial corridor than in the United States as a whole.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands appears to have unified Louisiana’s politicians in opposition, judging from a five-hour hearing Wednesday at the Capitol that Mark Ballard described as “cathartic.” 

The “She-cession” 
During Covid-19, women, who already carried a heavier share of family care responsibilities than their male counterparts, have taken on even more household responsibilities, setting back decades of progress toward gender equity in the workforce. But women can’t take on unpaid care work indefinitely. Heather McCulloch and Ai-jen Poo write in The Hill about the “She-cession” facing America and, and the policy responses needed to balance the burdens of care in the home: 

Today, policymakers are standing by as women are forced out of the workforce, with detrimental impacts on families, communities and our national economy. When comprehensive paid family and medical leave, childcare and home care aren’t available or are unaffordable, it is overwhelmingly women who take on the role of being unpaid caretakers for children, parents and other family members in need. As a result, they’re forced to leave their jobs, losing income, health benefits and opportunities for career advancement, in addition to other critical benefits like retirement savings.

The plight of Black farmers 
President Joe Biden has committed to an aggressive climate agenda, including changes to America’s agricultural practices. He has also committed to tackling the country’s growing inequities. Black-owned farms are at the nexus of these two priorities. But for years, including under Tom Vilsack’s tenure as Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama Administration, Black farmers have faced discrimination in access to the government-backed loans that let many farmers finance seed and equipment costs before the harvest, and a deaf ear from the Department of Agriculture’s civil rights division. Now, with Vilsack again set to helm the agency, Hiroko Tabuchi and Nadja Popovich of The New York Times report on how the new administration will need to wrestle with the enduring legacy of racism and discrimination in agriculture and at USDA.

Today, fewer than 35,000 Black farmers remain, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture. (And some experts say the number is even lower.) Land owned by Black farmers has fallen by an estimated 90 percent from the early 20th century peak, according to the Land Loss and Reparations Project, even as white-owned acreage shrank just 2 percent. Black farmers who lost their landholdings lost more than the property itself; they also lost the ability to use it for things like collateral for loans to, for instance, send children to college. An initial estimate of the overall economic harm to Black Americans from the historical loss of rural landholdings, calculated by researchers including Thomas W. Mitchell, a professor of law at Texas A&M University, is $350 billion.

Center Black Women 
For too long, Black women have been excluded from economic gains in America. But investing in Black women will create a fairer economic system for everyone. Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman argues in Teen Vogue that a national focus on Black women’s success would have a major payoff for the nation’s economic recovery: 

We simply cannot build back better without retiring the rhetoric that hails Black women as the arbiters of America’s conscience but fails to hold America accountable for withholding freedom from Black women in every imaginable space. Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and Indian American woman vice president means that our society must commit to equipping, empowering, and elevating all Black women beyond empty Black Lives Matter statements and disingenuous learning sessions.

Number of the Day
$2.6 trillion – The amount the U.S. economy lost in 2019 due to racial and gender disparities. (Source: Bloomberg)