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Sparks

The Picture of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Just Keeps Getting Worse

A report from Human Rights Watch includes new data on incidence of birth defects in the region.

A Louisiana petroleum refinery.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

For decades, oil and gas producers have built their facilities along an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Today, that area is known as Cancer Alley.

A report by Human Rights Watch released last week documents in painstaking detail how lax oversight of Louisiana’s fossil fuel and petrochemical industries contributed not just to devastating rates of cancer diagnoses, but also to elevated incidence of birth defects and respiratory ailments. The area is a “sacrifice zone,” per the United Nations, in which the area’s Black residents bear the brunt of harms created by nearby polluting industries.

“The failure of state and federal authorities to properly regulate the industry has dire consequences for residents of Cancer Alley,” said Antonia Juhasz, a senior researcher on fossil fuels at Human Rights Watch. “It’s long past time for governments to uphold their human rights obligations and for these sacrifices to end.”

The report, titled “We’re Dying Here,” brings a sharper focus to reproductive complications linked to fossil fuel pollution. The region’s rates of low birth weight and preterm birth are triple the United States average, according to new data from Tulane University researchers. In addition, chronic asthma, bronchitis, and persistent sinus infections are also common. “It’s just like a death sentence, like we’re sitting on death row waiting to be killed,” Sharon Lavigne, a St. James Parish activist, told a UN panel in 2021. “We are being a sacrifice zone for the state.”

The “Cancer Alley” nickname itself is nothing new, but the area has once again been in the spotlight amid the Biden administration’s consideration of 17 new export facilities for liquified natural gas. One of those, the proposed $10 billion Calcasieu Pass 2 project, would be built in Louisiana’s Cameron Parish, about a three-hour drive from the Cancer Alley zone. Last week, the White House announced that it would pause the approval process for new LNG terminals to allow for an updated review of their climate effects.

According to one former Environmental Protection Agency official, CP2 alone would add “an unbelievable amount of pollution.” Nonetheless, as Human Rights Watch notes, “at least 19 new fossil fuel and petrochemical plants [are] planned for Cancer Alley, including within many of the same areas of poverty and high concentrations of people of color.”

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Jacob Lambert profile image

Jacob Lambert

Jacob is Heatmap's founding multimedia editor. Before joining Heatmap, he was The Week's digital art director and an associate editor at MAD magazine.

Sparks

There’s Gold in That There Battery Waste

Aepnus is taking a “fully circular approach” to battery manufacturing.

Lithium ion batteries.
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Every year, millions of tons of sodium sulfate waste are generated throughout the lithium-ion battery supply chain. And although the chemical compound seems relatively innocuous — it looks just like table salt and is not particularly toxic — the sheer amount that’s produced via mining, cathode production, and battery recycling is a problem. Dumping it in rivers or oceans would obviously be disruptive to ecosystems (although that’s generally what happens in China), and with landfills running short on space, there are fewer options there, as well.

That is where Aepnus Technology is attempting to come in. The startup emerged from stealth today with $8 million in seed funding led by Clean Energy Ventures and supported by a number of other cleantech investors, including Lowercarbon Capital and Voyager Ventures. The company uses a novel electrolysis process to convert sodium sulfate waste into sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid, which are themselves essential chemicals for battery production.

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Donald Trump and Jaws.
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Former President Trump wants to know: Would you rather be electrocuted or eaten by a shark?

On Sunday, during a rally in Las Vegas, the Republican nominee floated the question for what is at least the second time this campaign season (an odd choice, perhaps, given that Nevada is hardly shark territory, and therefore his supporters there are unlikely to have given the question much thought).

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Tornado Alley Is Moving East

New research finally sheds some light on what the heck is happening.

A tornado.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

If hurricanes, wildfires, heat, and floods are the Big Four of extreme weather in America, then tornadoes are perhaps the equivalent of the National Bowling League.

That’s not for lack of fatalities — tornadoes kill more people annually than hurricanes, per the 30-year average — nor for their lack of star power (see: The Wizard of Oz, Sharknado, Twister, and my most highly anticipated movie of the year, Twisters). But when it comes to the study of extreme weather, robust, detailed data on tornadic supercells has been described as “largely absent,” at least compared to the scholarship on their more popular meteorological counterparts.

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