Study raises alarm over ‘Cancer Alley’ carcinogen levels

Source: By Sean Reilly, E&E News • Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Ethylene oxide concentrations averaged roughly two to three times an EPA cutoff for acceptable cancer risk.

The Denka, formerly DuPont, factory.

Silos, smokestacks and brown pools of water line the banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, in an area known as “Cancer Alley.” Emily Kask/AFP via Getty Images

Researchers working in a hub of Louisiana’s petrochemical industry have found unexpectedly high airborne levels of a toxic compound tied to breast and blood cancers, raising further questions about the adequacy of government efforts to protect vulnerable residents.

In a peer-reviewed study published online Tuesday, the researchers from Johns Hopkins University and other organizations reported that ethylene oxide concentrations near chemical plants along part of a heavily industrialized Mississippi River corridor averaged roughly two to three times an EPA cutoff for acceptable cancer risk.

Those levels were also far higher than agency estimates for the “Cancer Alley” region, which lies between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and has been a focal point of the Biden administration’s campaign to combat the disproportionate impact of air pollution on people of color and low-income communities.

The findings are “cause for concern,” Ellis Robinson, the lead author and an assistant research engineer at the Baltimore-based school, said in an interview. “If you look at what the EPA currently says about cancer risks in this area, ethylene oxide is a main driver.”