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Shintech PVC Plant in Convent, LA, USA


In 1996, Shintech, a Japanese subsidiary of Shin Etsu, proposed to build a $700 million polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in Convent, Louisiana. The plant would consist of three chemical factories and an incinerator. Convent is a dominantly African American community where more than 40% of its population falls below the poverty line. Convent is part of St. James Parish (counties in Louisiana are called parishes), located in the heart of what has become known as 'Cancer Alley'. Cancer Alley is the 85-mile stretch area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans where over 140 petrochemical and other industrial plants are located.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Shintech PVC Plant in Convent, LA, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Louisiana
Location of conflict:Convent
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Chemical industries
Other industries
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Pvc
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The plant would have emitted an additional 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals and 6.8 million gallons of wastewater into the already highly contaminated Mississippi River each year.

Project area:690
Level of Investment for the conflictive project700,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:2,500-3,000
Start of the conflict:1996
End of the conflict:09/1998
Company names or state enterprises:Shintech from United States of America - subsidiary of Shin Etsu
Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. Ltd from Japan
Relevant government actors:USEPA, Louisiana DEQ
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment (SJCJE); Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic (TUELC);
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Sampling the water, travelling to Japan to talk to officials
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:Citizens from Convent used several strategies after Shintech's proposal. First, citizens attended public hearings to me sure their voices opposing this proposal where heard and considered. After that, this community organization filed complaints with the EPA under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. A media campagin included bringing support from political and religious leaders, as well as celebrities.
More high-profile actions included collecting water samples from the river and presented them to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Emelda West, a local resident of 80 years of age, also made numerous trips to talk to officials about the dangers the PVC plant would produce. One of those trips was to Tokyo, Japan where she talked to Shin Etsu's president and CEO, Chihiro Kanagawa. She took with her a package of letters and petitions from 1,150 St. James Parish residents voicing their opposition to Shintech's plant.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:On September 17, 1998, and after two years of intense community activism, Shintech announced that it would not build a PVC plant in Convent. Instead, Shintech plans to build a smaller, $250 million PVC plant in nearby Plaquemine. Shintech withdrew permit applications for St. James Parish when the Plaquemine site was approved. The plant in Plaquemine was cheaper because Shintech pumps in raw materials like chlorine and vinyl chloride from a nearby Dow Chemical plant, instead of producing the raw materials themselves. It's hard to define whether this is as a success for environmental justice principles.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Cole, L. and Foster, S. 'From the Ground Up', New York University Press 2001

Collin, R. 'The Environmental Protection Agency' 2006

Blodgett, Abigail D. "An analysis of pollution and community advocacy in ‘cancer alley’: Setting an example for the environmental justice movement in St James Parish, Louisiana." Local Environment 11.6 (2006): 647-661.

Bullard, Robert D. "Dismantling environmental racism in the USA." Local Environment 4.1 (1999): 5-19.

Hines, Revathi (2001). African Americans' Struggle for Environmental Justice and the case of the Shintech Plant, Journal of Black Studies vol 31 no. 6

Corpwatch, Environmental Racism
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Rose Ann Rousell, Emelda West and Gloria Roberts (left to right) work with St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment, and have so far kept an enormous PVC plastics plant out of Convent.

© Elaine Osowski, 1998
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta information
Contributor:Alejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:22
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