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Barber writes: "Reserve, Louisiana is the place in America with the highest risk of cancer due to air toxicity, caused by a raft of government and corporate failure that has deprived residents - many of whom are poor and black - of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Robert Taylor is a resident of Reserve, Louisiana. (photo: Julie Dermansky/Guardian UK)
Robert Taylor is a resident of Reserve, Louisiana. (photo: Julie Dermansky/Guardian UK)

What Is Happening in America's Cancertown Is Tragic, Immoral and Evil

By William Barber, Guardian UK

16 July 19

Politicians have chosen process over lives and the result has been rampant cancer in the region

oe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.” (Isaiah 10:1). I was reminded of this verse from the Bible when I read about the town of Reserve in Louisiana. It is the place in America with the highest risk of cancer due to air toxicity, caused by a raft of government and corporate failure that has deprived residents - many of whom are poor and black - of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Reserve is home to the Pontchartrain Works facility, the only chemical plant in America to produce chloroprene, a likely carcinogen, that has spewed from the plant for almost 50 years. US government science has indicated this makes the risk of cancer in that area 50 times higher than the national average.

What is happening in Reserve, the subject of a year-long Guardian series, is ugly. It is tragic. It is immoral. And it is evil.

It is a clear example of what I describe as “policy violence”, which disproportionately affects poor communities of every race, but especially poorer communities of color. The plant’s operators, first the chemicals giant DuPont and now the Japanese corporation Denka, have for decades benefitted from Louisiana’s lax environmental rules and tax breaks to essentially target a community for profit.

It has happened for generations across political lines. Both Democrats and Republicans have chosen corporate process over people’s lives in Reserve, and elsewhere in the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known locally as Cancer Alley. But would any politician; a governor of Louisiana, a member of the house of representatives or a US senator, stand for this if it were their community or their family? The answer, of course, is no.

Often, elected representatives in this region will say that these polluting giants are necessary because they create jobs. To them I say the answer is simple: invest in clean energy.

The history of state-sanctioned oppression in Reserve has gone back for hundreds of years. The Pontchartrain Works facility is built on the site of a former plantation, and many residents in this area trace their roots back to slavery. The continuation of these economies, built on greed and evil intent, is striking. First slavery, then Jim Crow and now petrochemical pollution.

But just as these forms of oppression were made legal by the state, so, too, did people with a clear moral conscience fight against them. There can never be an acceptance of exploitation, of death from cancer and pollution.

Slavery was fought with an abolition movement. Jim Crow was opposed by civil rights leaders. This era of toxic pollution must be stopped too.

Many people in Reserve, and elsewhere in Cancer Alley, have been fighting this for years, all too often ignored by their elected representatives. It is particularly telling that Louisiana has just passed a regressive anti-abortion law while doing little to help the residents of Reserve.

I would challenge every so-called “pro-life” politician in Louisiana who is not also advocating on behalf of the citizens of Reserve to rethink that moniker.

All of this is why I will come to Reserve later this month.

Our movement, the Poor People’s Campaign, is built from the bottom up and aims to shift the moral narrative around this country. We want to make sure people don’t just hear the facts and figures about Cancer Alley, but they see the faces, the humanity, and the people that are being impacted. We believe there must be a policy remedy to what is going on in Reserve.

Too often, corporate exploitation and government failures occur in the darkness, away from the media spotlight. We must expose what is happening there to the light now.

We hope the people in Reserve will become part of our nationwide struggle.

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0 # chrisconno 2019-07-16 12:05
It is hard to believe the 'pro-lifers' care about anything good. The don't care about life, they don't care about racism in fact most seem to be racists because they have blessed themselves, they don't care about pedophiles in office, they don't care about imperialistic wares thrown by republicans as if they were gala events, they don't care about the wrongfully convicted being executed, they don't care that children in cages have heartbeats. They only care about zygotes and criminalizing women. In this case they only care about chemicalized money,
0 # laborequalswealth 2019-07-18 07:54
They are not pro life. The are pro forced birth. Then they eagerly support killing born humans in endless wars and poisoning all of us with industrial toxins.

No hypocrite like a forced birth hypocrite.
+2 # DongiC 2019-07-16 14:19
The people of Reserve, Louisiana have been sacrificed upon the altar of American capitalism. They are poor and riddled with cancer from the corporations there that manufacture all kinds of toxic stuff. What has happened to them over the years is a gross violation of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The government at both the state and federal levels should intervene and make these poor unfortunates whole. They should provide decent medical care for them and shut down the polluting plants. Governments should protect their citizens, all of them, poor as well as rich.
+1 # Glen 2019-07-16 16:24
Let us not forget the amazing amount of water pollution in that territory, as well.

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