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Health Officials in “Cancer Alley” Will Study if Living Near a Controversial Chemical Plant Causes Cancer

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A house sits along a long stretch of River Road by the Mississippi River dubbed "Cancer Alley" because of the many nearby chemical plants. Giles Clarke/Getty

This article was originally published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom, and it was produced in partnership with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Louisiana health officials plan to knock on every door within 2.5 kilometers of the controversial Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. John the Baptist Parish in hopes of determining exactly how many people in the neighborhood have developed cancer.

Neighbors say the inquiry, first announced in late August, is long overdue.

The Denka plant is the only one in the country that emits chloroprene, which was classified as a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. The plant is in the heart of Louisiana’s industrial corridor, which already has some of the most toxic air pollution in the nation, and where a wave of new petrochemical plants is expected to worsen air quality in already overburdened areas, according to an analysis by ProPublica and The Times-Picayune and The Advocate.

Over the last decade, there has been a steady drumbeat of increasingly worrisome news about the Denka plant’s emissions. In 2015, the EPA released an analysis saying the airborne cancer risk in the census tract nearest to the plant was the highest in the nation.

But Louisiana officials have sought to downplay the risks. Chuck Carr Brown, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, has repeatedly expressed doubts about the EPA’s analysis and complained of “fear-mongering” by........

© Mother Jones