Locating along the Mississippi River in Louisiana provides a great deal of advantages to petrochemical facilities, such as access to natural gas and a global transportation network. These advantages have created an Industrial Corridor in the Louisiana parishes along the river, such as Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and West Baton Rouge.
One claim that is repeatedly made in opposition to new facilities or facility expansions is that people residing in the Industrial Corridor have a greater incidence and mortality from cancer. However, objective data contradicts these claims and establishes that cancer rates and deaths are lower than, or there is no significant difference from, the rest of the state.
Louisiana law requires that health care providers report cancer cases to the Louisiana Tumor Registry (LTR). LTR collects all this data and publishes annual reports regarding cancer incidences and deaths. The empirical data published by the LTR shows that cancer rates in the Industrial Corridor do not differ significantly for white men, black men, and black women from the rates for the rest of Louisiana. Rates for all cancers combined in white women were significantly lower than the statewide rate. Additionally, death rates for all cancers combined in the Industrial Corridor were significantly lower than those for Louisiana among whites; blacks in the Industrial Corridor experienced the same mortality rates as their counterparts statewide. Cancer in Louisiana, 2011-2015, Vol. 33, Sep. 2018.
A recent report issued by the LTR, Cancer Incidence in Louisiana by Census Tract, 2005 — 2015, yet again establishes this point. The report provides information, at the census tract level, regarding actual cancer incidences for census tracts that meet the reporting threshold. To be included, it was required that the population count exceed 20,000 and the case count exceed 15 (or greater than or equal to 16) cases when combining the 2005 to 2015 data together. There are about 146 census tracts in the Industrial Corridor and 128 of the census tracts (or 88%) do not have a significantly higher cancer rate.
Some also claim that cancer risks are higher in the Industrial Corridor. Again, however, the facts do not support this claim. A study entitled Uneven Magnitude of Disparities in Cancer Risks from Air Toxics, which has been cited by several groups speaking at public hearings in opposition to petrochemical permits, compares estimated risks of cancer based on exposure to certain toxic air pollutants. The vast majority of high-risk areas in the study are in the urban areas of Orleans Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish, which is well away from industrial activity. By contrast, the study found that most other census tracts in the Industrial Corridor are at a “Low Risk” of cancer caused by air toxics exposure. In fact, that study notes the “residents living adjacent to petrochemical plants fail to report any substantial mortality differentials, meaning that residents at presumably the greatest risk do not report worse outcomes.”
The claims of environmental groups ignore the fact that there are numerous risk factors for contracting cancer, including diet, obesity, smoking status, and genetics. As to cancer caused by industrial emissions, the LTR’s objective analysis establishes that cancer incidences and deaths in the Industrial Corridor are lower than, or there is no significant difference from, the rest of the state. As a result, there is no truth to the claim that cancer incidences and deaths in the Industrial Corridor are higher due to industrial activity.