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Welcome to ‘cancer alley,’ where toxic air is about to get worse



05 October 2022

Over a half-century, Hazel Schexnayder saw this riverside hamlet transformed from a collection of old plantations, tin-roofed shacks and verdant cornfields into an industrial juggernaut.

By the early 1990s, she’d had enough of the towering chemical plants and their mysterious white plumes, the roadside ditches oozing with blue fluid, the air that smelled of rotten eggs and nail-polish remover, the neighbors suffering miscarriages and dying of cancer.

“We were inundated with plants,” Schexnayder, now 87, said. “We didn’t need any more around here.”

She and others began pushing back in 1993, and the following year, residents voted to turn their corner of unincorporated Iberville Parish into the city of St. Gabriel. They wanted sidewalks and other amenities, but more than that, they wanted some say over the chemical plants popping up in their backyards. While the newly created city was able to keep new plants out, the petrochemical pileup continued unabated beyond St. Gabriel’s borders.

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National Minority Quality Forum is a research and educational organization dedicated to ensuring that high-risk racial and ethnic populations and communities receive optimal health care. This nonprofit, nonpartisan organization integrates data and expertise in support of initiatives to eliminate health disparities.

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