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  • Monday, October 10, 2005


    Welcome to Cancer Alley

    Plastic is a petroleum product so it follows that where there are oil wells and refineries, there are also plastic and chemical facilities. Since Texas, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico provide a large source of oil, many chemical refineries are located near the coast region and along the lower Mississippi River. The section of the river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana has so many chemical plants it's called "Cancer Alley" or "Chemical Alley".

    Explosions and spills are notoriously common along this strip. The recent explosion at a plant in Texas is typical:
    In an increasingly familiar scene along the Texas coast, black smoke and flames streamed from a Point Comfort industrial plant Thursday, following an explosion that injured at least 11 workers.

    Two workers were taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Roger Green, 30, was in serious condition with burns over 36 percent of his body. John Hunt, 45, had burns on his arms and was listed in fair condition.

    The other injured workers were treated and released, according to Rob Thibault, a spokesman for the plant's operator, Formosa Plastics Corp.

    The blast at the Formosa plant was the third to strike a Texas industrial facility this year and the second to hit one of the Taiwan-based company's U.S. facilities in 17 months.

    In March, BP's Texas City refinery burst into flames, killing 15 and injuring 170 people in an accident that recently brought the company a $21 million fine. In July, BP's refinery exploded a second time, forcing local residents to remain indoors but causing no injuries.
    This has been an ongoing problem for over a century. Of course, Hurricane Katrina and the destruction left behind has left additional chemical problems. But this is nothing new. These explosions, worker deaths and maimings have been so common, they barely create a ripple when reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

    This is the cost of our consumptive culture: All those chemicals and plastics are used to sustain and produce consumer items. Complexity is not a virtue, it's an expensive process.

    Nota Bene: This is PBU41, my small contribution to the Progressive Blogger Union (PBU) for this week. I participate in PBU because, for me, activism is empty without community. Activism isn't just about showing up for a protest or writing a blog or signing a petition. It's about forming and forging alliances and lines of connection between people and groups. "The people united will never be defeated" isn't just a slogan to be chanted at rallies; it should be a way of life. It begins with working together toward common goals. If you want to see what other PBU members have written about plant explosions, you can look under the subject header "PBU41" at the PBU group at Flickr. Or you can plug "PBU41" into the Technorati search engine.

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