Down Cancer Alley: The Lived Experience of Health and Environmental Suffering in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor

Abstract

With the massive Gulf oil spill of 2010, there has been intensified concern about the impacts of industrial contamination on physical environments, human health, and social well-being. Based on ethnographic research in a primarily African American town in an area of Southern Louisiana colloquially known as the Chemical Corridor because of the large number of local chemical manufacturing plants, this article engages arguments made by Auyero and Swistun concerning the uncertainties and confusions that emerge when official or empowered pronouncements about the health impacts of living near waste-generating factories conflict with the everyday experience of perceived health-related contamination in an impoverished community. The article seeks to address gaps in our understanding of how communities conceive of environmental health risk, what their sources of information and level of knowledge about this issue are, and how they handle potential conflict between access to needed employment and the local presence of industrial polluters.