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.
This concentration has resulted in higher rates of cancer and other medical problems impacting local communities.
St. James Parish is considered by the Environmental Defense Fund to be one of America's 25 most polluted counties. It is home to over eight chemical plants, which emitted 17 million pounds of toxic emissions in 1995. The people of St. James Parish are already overburdened with toxic emissions. The Shintech PVC plant would emit an additional 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals and 6.8 million gallons of wastewater into the Mississippi River each year. Chemical discharges into the water would include benzene, methyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride and ethylene dichloride. The Mississippi River is the source of water for many Louisiana cities including New Orleans.
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.