In Major Victory for Environmental Justice Activists, Court Revokes Formosa Plastics’ Air Permits in Louisiana’s "Cancer Alley"
Formosa Plastics, based in Taiwan, has proposed to build one of the world’s biggest plastics factory - a massive new $9.4 billion complex in St. James, Louisiana. The plans for the plant are projected to double air pollution in an area with some of the worst air quality in the U.S. In September 2022, a Louisiana court revoked the company’s air permits for failing to protect the public from environmental harm.
“This decision marks an end to business as usual in St. James Parish, where the state of Louisiana has been allowed until now to hand out permits to highly toxic facilities without considering the people who are forced to live in their shadows.” – Corinne Van Dalen, senior attorney at Earthjustice
What is Cancer Alley?
Cancer Alley is an area located in the U.S. state of Louisiana along the Mississippi River with some 150 petrochemical facilities and refineries, whose air and water pollution have made Louisiana one of the most toxic places to live in the country. Activists call the 85-mile stretch of river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans ‘Cancer Alley’ due to the higher than average cancer cases.
The vast majority of the 45,000 residents of St. James are African Americans who live under the poverty line. They have been disproportionately affected by cancer, respiratory diseases and other health problems ever since the area the petrochemical industry expanded in the 1960s.
How would the Formosa Plastics plant affect St. James?
Currently the risks of getting cancer in St. James are 50 times the U.S. average. Experts have estimated that if Formosa’s plant begins operations as planned, the levels of cancer-causing chemicals could double in the region, according to an assessment by ProPublica. In the area closest to the plant, rates could triple.
“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights.” – United Nations Special Rapporteurs
Residents oppose Formosa
Residents of St. James have come out in force to protest Formosa’s plans. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) has received 15,525 separate comments in 2019 expressing opposition. In 2020 Earthjustice sued to stop the project on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Healthy Gulf, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, No Waste Louisiana, RISE St. James and the Sierra Club over the air pollution.
“We need no more pollution. We are already devastated. Our bodies can no longer take any more.” – Rita Cooper, local resident.
Formosa’s spokespeople say they intend to keep pursuing the project and “to explore all legal options.”
"We believe the permits issued to FG by LDEQ are sound and the agency properly performed its duty to protect the environment in the issuance of those air permits." – Janile Parks, Formosa’s spokesperson.
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