Cancer Alley

Istrouma to the Gulf of Mexico

Collage by Monique Michelle Verdin.

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Cancer Alley

Istrouma to the Gulf of Mexico

by Monique Michelle Verdin
Southern Cultures, Vol. 26, No. 2: Art & Vision

“We ride the waves of supply and demand on the banks of the Mississippi, furs and cypress, cotton and cane, oil and gas, corn and grain, coal and aluminum, commodities bought and sold, always en route, pushed up and down river.”

They call it “Cancer Alley” because it’s got a reputation. The hundred-mile stretch between Bvlbancha (New Orleans) and Istrouma (Baton Rouge) was named in the 1980s, but today a more accurate accounting would expand it to include the roughly 255 miles from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico. The long colonial experiment began on the banks of the lower Mississippi River centuries ago with the clear-cutting of ancient bottomland hardwood forests and cypress swamps, making way for indigo and sugarcane plantations. Petrochemical plants have since replaced them, surrounded by deteriorating wetlands and communities plagued by and dependent upon the boom-and-bust cycles of petro-economics for employment and restoration efforts.