April 2017, Louisiana. Georgia-Pacific’s Port Hudson facility is owned by the Koch brothers and located in Zachary, La., just north of Baton Rouge. The mill is known to release cancer-causing toxins. The chlorine used in the manufacture of paper towels and other Koch products produced at this plant have the potential to endanger 230,263 nearby residents.

Cancer Alley is a 150-mile, pollution-ridden industrial corridor along the Mississippi River, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This passageway is home to one of the largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants in the nation. Towns along the Mississippi River have seen dramatic rises in cancer, birth defects, asthma, stillbirths, miscarriages, neurological diseases and other serious health ailments. Parts of this region have become so polluted that companies have been forced to buy entire towns and bulldoze the homes, erasing them from existence. The communities affected by this pollution are predominately African American. Poor people and minorities suffer most from environmental exposure to hazardous substances. 

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March 2017, Louisiana. This large PVC facility is owned by Shintec. The company originally tried to build a plant in St James Parish just outside of Donaldsonville. The plans were stopped due to protests from environmental groups and community organizers. After being defeated in St. James Parish, Shintec tried a new strategy that involved finding ways to integrate their company into the community. They had their plant manager buy a home in the community of Addis. They started training prospective workers a year before applying for any permits. Shintec also worked with local public officials and groups to develop a close partnership with the community. Today about 80 percent of their workers live within 10 miles of the plant. Slowly some companies are beginning to alter the way they treat the communities they exist in. Shintec even went so far as to preemptively buyout and relocate three families living in a small community known as Ella before plant production began. 

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April 2017, Louisiana.The massive Exxon chemical plant is situated next to the Exxon Mobil Refinery in the Standard Heights neighborhood of Baton Rouge.

ExxonMobil Chemical Company has been caught regularly releasing air pollution above what is lawfully allowed in its permit. The harmful and hazardous air pollutants include dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals and gases such as benzene, toluene, propylene, ethylene, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hexane, methylene chloride, and other volatile organic compounds. Evidence also shows that the plant has released toxic air pollution that the facility doesn’t have permits to release. Exxon’s reporting consistently lacks enough detail to comply with regulations and does not provide nearby residents crucial information about their potential exposures to dangerous pollution.

Many of the small African American neighborhoods along the Cancer Alley corridor were developed after the Civil War when the Freedman’s Bureau offered small land grants to former slaves working on the sugar cane plantations along the Mississippi River. In the early 1900’s Louisiana politicians enticed large petroleum companies to the corridor with lenient policies towards environmental standards. 

April 2017, Louisiana. St John Baptist Church in Alsen was originally located next to the Rollins Environmental Services Toxic Waste Dump. After the landmark 1985 McCastle vs. Rollins Environmental Services lawsuit, the church raised funds to purchase land in the center of Alsen on a nice piece of property that includes a large picnic area, barbecue, basketball court, and playground. Shortly after the new church opened its doors, Ronaldson Field Landfill received a permit from the East Baton Rouge parish to begin accepting construction debris waste on the property next to the church within 100 yards of the playground and basketball court that had just been built. During most Sunday morning services the church is overtaken by the awful stench of the landfill. 

September 2017, Louisiana. In 1890, the Louisiana state legislature designated Southern University as a land grant college for African American’s to support higher education for all students in the state. Southern has the second largest student body population of people of color in the country after Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The historic University offers beautiful views of the Mississippi River, but this comes at a cost since it is located next to the Devil’s Swamp Superfund site and surrounded by petrochemical plants and toxic waste sites. A slew of leaks, discharges and accidents have impacted Southern, including toxic leaking railroad tank cars, ruptured pipelines, chemical spills from tank trucks, and leaking barges on the river, making it the most adversely impacted institution of higher learning in the country.

Southern University also struggles to receive funding and new facilities, unlike the flagship university, LSU, located just down the river. LSU is burgeoning with new facilities while Southern is struggling for its survival. 

February 2017, Louisiana. The community of Alsen was established in 1872 by the Freedman’s Bureau on land just north of Baton Rouge next to the Mississippi River. In the 1950’s, the Baton Rouge city parish council voted to rezone the farm land around Alsen from Agriculture to Industry. The rezoning faced little opposition since there were very few registered voters in Alsen at the time and no elected officials of color in the parish. Industry quickly grew to surround Alsen, making it one of the most vulnerable communities along the corridor. Within a four mile radius, there are eleven petrochemical plants, three Superfund sites, five hazardous waste pits, two city garbage dumps and two privately owned waste dumps. These facilities emit toxins that are extremely dangerous to humans. They contaminate animal life, waterways and vegetation in the area. The industry surrounding the community of Alsen has no regard for the people living there.

Consequently, the land in Louisiana is now some of the most industrially injured land in the United States, and the communities that are largely comprised of descendants of those formerly enslaved people are most vulnerable to the harmful pollutants emitted from the petrochemical industry.Community activists have struggled through decades long David vs. Goliath battles for compensation from the state government and chemical producers. 

April 2017, Louisiana. The Devil’s Swamp Lake has been a source of fresh food for the approximately 1598 low-income residents who live within two miles of the lake. Between the 1960’s and the 1980’s industrial facilities discharged waste into the 64-acre body of water. Many people in the community fish the lake as a source of affordable fresh food. Testing done in 1986 confirmed toxic levels of PCB’s, mercury hexachlorobenzene, and hexachlorobutadiene. This resulted in an immediate advisory mandating that residents consume fish from the lake no more than twice a month. The toxins have been traced back to the Rollins Environmental Services and Petro Processors toxic waste facilities. As testing of the lake has continued over the years, the levels of toxicity have risen. In 2004, the EPA proposed that the Devil’s Swamp Lake be listed as a Superfund site. The Superfund status has yet to be finalized, but a new consumption advisory based on testing done in 2014 states that “there should be no consumption of any fish or crawfish from Devil’s Swamp Lake.” It also warns that residents should “avoid swimming and participating in water activities there.”

Environmental groups have asked the companies responsible for polluting Devil’s Swamp Lake to provide groceries to low-income residents in the surrounding communities because they are responsible for contaminating a vital food source. So far none of the offending companies have complied. The lake is located 1.5 miles from Alsen and St Irma Lee residential neighborhood. 

As our nation continues to grapple with an unstable presidential administration that is actively deregulating the petrochemical industry, it is important to reflect on what has happened in South Louisiana.  

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February 2017, Louisiana. In March of 2016 two employees were treated for exposure to argon gas at the Placid Refinery. Derek Trouard died after he suffered multiple heart attacks and inflammation to the brain immediately after the leak. The other worker suffered from memory loss but left the hospital in stable condition. 

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February 2017, Louisiana. The Great River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans straddles both sides of the Mississippi River. This corridor is approximately 70 miles in length and filled with sugar cane fields, antebellum plantation mansions, small communities of slave descendants founded by the Freedman’s Bureau, petrochemical plants, and strip developments with new homes, all mixed together.

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February 2017, Louisiana. St Irma Lee is a small community that was once part of Alsen. It is located next to the Ronaldson Field DebrisLandfill. About twenty years ago, St Irma Lee was separated from the larger more middle class Alsen by mountains of rotting construction debris. Since its separation, the community has declined to just 12 inhabited homes on one street, which is surrounded on all sides by the petrochemical industry and waste disposal sites.

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February 2017, Louisiana. ExxonMobil Chemical Company, Baton Rouge Plastics Plant. This ExxonMobil plant is a 118-acre site that produces polyethylene used in products including adhesives, automotive hoses, belts, seals, and bumpers. NRC records show that the plant regularly leaks Ethylene, Propylene and Benzene into the air. This site is located 1 mile from St Irma Lee and 1.5 miles from Alsen residential communities.  


Working within the documentary tradition, Stacy Kranitz makes photographs that acknowledge the limits of photographic representation. Her images do not tell the “truth” but are honest about their inherent shortcomings, and thus reclaim these failures (exoticism, ambiguity, fetishization) as sympathetic equivalents in order to more forcefully convey the complexity and instability of the lives, places, and moments they depict.

Kranitz was born in Kentucky and currently lives in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Her work has been written about in the Columbia Journalism ReviewBritish Journal of PhotographyJournal of Appalachian StudiesTimeThe GuardianJuxtapoz and Liberation.

In 2015 she was named Time Magazine Instagram Photographer of the Year and in 2017 received a grant from the Michael P. Smith Fund for Documentary Photography. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Discovery Award and presented an exhibition of her work at the Rencontres d’Arles. Her first monograph, As it Was Give(n) to Me, will be published by Twin Palms. She is a current Guggenheim Fellow. 

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