For five years I have fought against the polluters who have poisoned our community in Louisiana’s “cancer alley”, or as we call it now, “death alley”. And for decades our fight has been ignored by the US government.
This makes President Joe Biden’s decision to reference “cancer alley” earlier last week, as he signed new climate and environmental justice orders, a meaningful and great moment. But for me the distance between seeing Mr Biden address our problems directly, and anything actually coming to fruition, is a long gap. And I will have to wait to see some direct results.
For too long we have been failed by every layer of government, from the president, to congressional representation, from our state governor, to our state environment agency. All of them have failed us miserably.
I have lived my whole life in Reserve, Louisiana, on a block a few hundred feet from a chemical plant emitting the “likely carcinogen” chloroprene. It is the only location in the country to emit the compound and it makes my neighbourhood, and others nearby, endure the highest risk of cancer due to airborne pollution anywhere in the United States.
The plant was operated for half a century by DuPont and now by the Japanese company Denka. These corporations have always done what they wanted, regardless of the harm they have done to my community. We have had no way of protecting ourselves.
And all my community has ever asked if for is basic safety and decency to preserve our health and the air we breathe.
And while it is welcome for the president to talk about investment in clean energy, this plant is poisoning us right now. I believe the new president could act on this straight away.
He could make sure the EPA continues to monitor chloroprene emissions at sites around the plant. The agency had been doing this since 2016 but will stop monitoring next month. Their recordings showed that chloroprene levels regularly exceeded the 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter recommended by the EPA as a tolerable level.
And the president could urge the EPA to adequately enforce the 0.2 recommendations, making them not just guidelines, but an enforceable limit on the toxic air pollution here.
It is difficult to describe the effect their pollution has had on me and my family. In one word, it is horrible. I look at my poor daughter now, ill with a rare intestinal disease linked with chloroprene exposure. She moved to New Orleans to escape the pollution and is totally incapacitated. And my wife, diagnosed with cancer, moved to California to avoid the toxic air, where I visit her regularly.
But I think also about my neighbours, aunts and brothers – because these people can’t move. Forced to live there and breathe this poison so these companies can make maximum profit.