St. James Parish awarded $500k for air quality monitoring in heart of ‘Cancer Alley’

The grant was awarded by the EPA to LDEQ to implement public air monitoring in St. James Parish.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 4:42 PM CDT
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ST. JAMES (WVUE) - Nearly half a million dollars will go toward a public air monitor in the heart of what is referred to as “Cancer Alley.”

On Monday (June 6), community advocates, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), and the Environmental Protection Agency held a press conference to celebrate the federal grant money, which comes in the form of a grant to LDEQ.

LDEQ will use the money to establish and administer a community air monitor on the west bank of St. James Parish.

“We want our children and our grandchildren to grow up breathing clean air and drinking clean water. The luxury that we don’t have,” said Sharon Lavigne, Director of RISE St. James, a faith-based community advocacy group fighting for clean air, water, and soil. “This is the beginning of us solving the problem that’s been going on for decades in St. James.”

Lavigne founded RISE five years ago, originally with the mission of stopping a Formosa Chemicals plant from being built in St. James, but she said her fight has since expanded to addressing pollution from all petrochemical plants.

“We already can’t breathe the air,” Lavigne said. “In this area, we have 12 industries within a 10-mile radius, and this monitor will monitor the air, and so eventually we will have clean air to breathe.”

St. James Parish is in the heart of “Cancer Alley,” parishes spanning the Mississippi River in Southeast Louisiana that experience elevated cancer risk, which advocates associate with toxins released into the air by the area’s many petrochemical plants.

RELATED: EPA proposes stronger toxic chemical plant emissions limits

“You can smell the chemicals in the air. You can smell ammonia, benzene, all of these chemicals are in our air. We wake up smelling it, we go to bed smelling it,” Lavigne said. “It’s taken our lives. So many people have cancer. So many people are dying.”

Democratic Congressman Troy Carter, who represents Louisiana’s 2nd District, said the grant is an example of the federal government “putting its money where its mouth is.”

“We have more money now to deal with environmental issues than we’ve had in a very long time, if ever. I think that goes a long way to letting the people know that we’re serious about this, but also goes a long way to letting the petrochemical plants know that we’re serious about making sure people play by the rules,” Carter said. “In the best case scenario, we have a scenario where communities and businesses are able to live together, but in order for that to happen, we have to make sure communities are safe.”

Lavigne said the location of the air monitoring device will be selected by citizens and RISE during a meeting Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. at the St. James Parish Senior Center at 7140 Park St. in St. James.

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