St. James Parish, Louisiana sits in the middle of an 85-mile corridor along the Mississippi river that’s home to more than 150 petrochemical plants. This concentration of petrochemical facilities has taken a toll on the health of nearby communities – a toll that falls disproportionately on Black communities. Cancer risk in some parts of this corridor is more than 50 times the national average, giving it the moniker ‘cancer alley.’

In 2018, a new petrochemical plant was announced – one that would double pollution in St. James Parish and emit tons of carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde. For Sharon Lavigne, a retired special education teacher turned environmental justice organizer, it was time to fight back.  

Last week, we talked about decarbonizing the petrochemicals industry. This week, we’re talking about the public health and environmental justice costs of petrochemicals. What does an environmentally just future look like? And how can we get there?

Guests: Sharon Lavigne is an environmental justice advocate and the founder of Rise St. James. Dr. Robert Bullard is a distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy and director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University.

The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. This episode was produced by Alexandria Herr and Daniel Woldorff. Theme music and mixing by Sean Marquand. Story editing by Anne Bailey. A special thanks to Natalie Volk, Kirsten Smith and Kyu Lee. Our executive editor is Stephen Lacey.