NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Louisiana: Below Average Cancer Incidence, Above Average Mortality

March 31, 1999

If environmental chemicals cause cancer, Louisiana is a reasonable place to look for evidence, says analyst Michael Gough. Chemical emissions in the parishes along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge are well above the national average.

  • In the April 1998 Journal of the Louisiana Medical Society, Vivien Chen and other researchers from the Louisiana State University Medical Center reported that the incidence of cancer in black women, white women and black men was below the national average in the river parishes.
  • The cancer incidence for white men was equal to the national average, but no higher.
  • However, black men and women in those parishes have above average mortality from cancer, as do white men.
  • Only white women, who have a below average incidence of cancer, also have a cancer mortality rate below the national average.

The explanation for the above average cancer mortality may lie in another characteristic of these parishes, says Gough: poverty rates are above the national average in the river parishes. Many studies have established that poor people are less likely to receive needed medical care; conversely, improved access to medical care and better health are associated with higher incomes.

Studies have shown the level of chemicals released by industrial plants is too low to pose cancer risks. However, activists stopped the construction of a chemical plant in largely black St. James, La., arguing that minorities and the poor have higher environmental exposures to chemicals -- a claim which most studies don't support. The plant would have provided 700 jobs, thus raising incomes and improving access to medical care for workers and their families.

Thus by contributing to the continuing poverty of St. James residents, environmentalists increased their risk of dying from cancer.

Source: Michael Gough (Cato Institute), "Does Environmentalism Kill?" EPA Watch, March 10, 1999.


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