Mossville, Louisiana: environmental racism in “cancer alley”, United States

Mossville was one early settlement of free blacks since 1790. After the 1940s Mossville became surrounded by industrial plants, making it "the most polluted corner of the most polluted region in one of the most polluted states in the USA".


"Gather current and former Mossville residents (in Louisiana's "cancer alley") in a room and you're likely to hear a litany of health problems and a list of friends and relatives who died young". (3). In 2014, an article in Mother Jones (2) explained that in 1790, a freed slave named Jim Moss found a place to settle down on a bend in the Houston River in the bayous of southwest Louisiana. Although never formally incorporated, the village of Mossville became one of the first settlements of free blacks in the South. But over the last half century, Mossville was surrounded. More than a dozen industrial plants now encircle the community of 500 residents, making it quite possibly the most polluted corner of the most polluted region in one of the most polluted states in the United States. In 2014 a proposal to build the largest chemical plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere would all but wipe Mossville off the map. The project, spearheaded by the South African chemical giant SASOL, would cost as much as $21 billion. (2). There were already 14 industrial facilities around Mossville, a small community. In 2015 , Christian representatives, using the language of "environmental justice", reported that a "new chemical plant is being built in the small African-American town of Mossville in southwest Louisiana, raising significant concerns about health, safety, and environmental impact. The plant’s owner has offered to pay Mossville residents to move out of their homes and sell their churches. The company says it is being generous, but some longtime residents and religious leaders feel they are being forced out. “The church is the hub of the community, as far as relationships and as far as love and caring for one another,” said the chairman of the deacon board at Mount Zion Baptist Church, Mossville’s oldest house of worship."

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Basic Data
NameMossville, Louisiana: environmental racism in “cancer alley”, United States
CountryUnited States of America
SiteMossville, near Lake Charles
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Thermal power plants
Chemical industries
Oil and gas refining
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Crude oil
Vinyl chloride
Natural Gas
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsMossville is located in Louisiana's "cancer alley". The industrial boom began in and around Mossville during World War II. Vinyl chloride makers, refineries, a coal-fired energy plant and chemical plants now operate in what was once rural country, rich in agriculture, fishing and hunting. Companies located in the area (Georgia Gulf, Conoco Phillips, Entergy, PPG Industries, and Sasol) have reported releasing dioxins, a cancer-causing, highly toxic group of chemicals, according to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. (5). The health and well being of Mossville residents has been harmed with elevated rates of disease. Studiesby the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found alarming results — residents had more than three times the national average of dioxins in their blood, elevated dioxins in breast milk, and high cancer mortality rates A university study found Mossville residents were two to three times more likely to suffer from health problems, including a high incidence of ear, nose, and throat illnesses, central nervous system disturbances, and cardiovascular problems, as well as increased skin, digestive, immune, and endocrine disorders.(5). Ever determined to reclaim their lives, Mossville residents have fought back against the polluters and had real results, including winning relocation for many families due to a 1994 Condea Vista spill of one million pounds of ethylene dichloride that caused well water contamination.

Robert Bullard, author of "Dumping in Dixie," says it's no surprise industry chose Mossvillle, an unincorporated community founded by African Americans in the 1790s.(3). "What happens is zoning becomes very political, and what happens is people with power, with lawyers and elected officials who can fight for them and make decisions for them, oftentimes will get things placed away from them and placed in locations where other people live".(3). Deprived of power, Bullard says, African-Americans have borne the brunt of living near industry, landfills and hazardous facilities. (3). Another voice denouncing the fact is that of Wilma Subra (a chemist), who says: "The people of Mossville are like an experiment. They know that they have high levels of dioxin in their blood...". (3).
Project Area (in hectares)1200
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population1000
Start Date2010
Company Names or State EnterprisesGeorgia Gulf from United States of America
Sasol from South Africa
Condea Vista from United States of America
Relevant government actorsEPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
International and Financial InstitutionsInter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR (or CIDH))
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersMEAN (Mossville Environmental Action Now)

Advocates for Environmental Human Rights(AEHR) (New Orleans)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Environmental Justice activists in the United States
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Fires, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts, Deaths
OtherDioxin. Pollution from vinyl chloride production. High cancer rates.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
OtherA well-known case of "environmental racism".
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of Alternatives"We have tried every way to protect our community using environmental and civil rights laws, but the government has set it up so that we can’t get justice. Because we are fighting for our human rights to live and see our children grow up in a healthy environment, we need a major change in our government that stops the environmental destruction of Mossville and other communities of color. U.S. laws allow environmental racism, but human rights law prohibits this injustice.”

–Delma Bennett, Mossville resident (MEAN webpage)".
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.There have been glimmers of hope (through the IACHR in 2010, later through EPA interventions), but injustice continues to the bitter end of Mossville as a place.
Sources and Materials

[click to view]


Wilma Subra, Industrial Sources of Dioxin Poisoning in Mossville, Louisiana: A Report Based on the Government’s Own Data (2007).
[click to view]

Merrill Singer, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut. Down Cancer Alley: The Lived Experience of Health and Environmental Suffering in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor. [The article specifically engag

es the argument made by Auyero and

Swistun (2009), based on groundbreaking ethnographic research in an Argentine shantytown named Flammable ].
[click to view]

R. Bullard, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. WESTVIEW PRESS. Boulder , Colorado.

(5) Environmental Justice & the PVC Chemical Industry. Center for Health, Environment and Justice. (2009). Focuses on PVC pollution.
[click to view]

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS IN COMMUNITIES ADJACENT TO PVC PRODUCTION FACILITIES by Wilma Subra (Inventory of PVC releases in the USA, including in the Mossvile area).
[click to view]


(2) Mother Jones. A Massive Chemical Plant Is Poised to Wipe This Louisiana Town off the Map. SASOL’s proposed facility may spell the end for a 224-year-old community founded by freed slaves. Tim Murphy. Mar. 27, 2014
[click to view]

Proceso, Mexico, caso de racismo ambiental, Mossville, Louisiana, USA (un "palenque" de Estados Unidos). Por La Redacción , 25 abril, 2010
[click to view]

Media Links

(4) Environmental Justice in Mossville. August 28, 2015. Religion & Ethics.
[click to view]

(3) Toxic towns: People of Mossville 'are like an experiment'

By David S. Martin, CNN Medical Senior Producer. February 26, 2010
[click to view]

(1) Sue Sturgis, GRIST, Louisiana environmental racism case gets hearing from Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Apr 2, 2010.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Source: A Mossville resident protested ongoing contamination in 2007. Mossville Environmental Action Now
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[click to view]

Other CommentsThe situation in 2018 appears to be as bad as it was in 2010, when the case was to be heard at the IACHR.
Meta Information
Last update25/03/2018