Levels of toxic gas in ‘Cancer Alley’ are ‘substantially’ higher than previously believed: Study

Levels of a carcinogenic gas in a high-pollution area of Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley” are significantly higher than previously believed, according to a new study.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University measured for a chemical called ethylene oxide (EtO), which increases risks of cancers including breast cancer, in a Louisiana industrial corridor.

The researchers found concentrations of the gas at significantly higher levels than modeling from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows, said senior study author Peter DeCarlo.

DeCarlo said that specifically the results suggest that polluters are underreporting how much EtO they emit — by a factor of between two and 10.

He added that this means cancer risk due to exposure to the substance is greater than previously believed.

“More cancers may be attributable to the exposure to the chemical” based on the results, DeCarlo said.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Ethylene oxide is used as a sterilizing chemical, particularly for medical devices as well as spices used to season food. “Cancer Alley” is the nickname of an industrial area of Louisiana that is also home to predominantly Black communities who face significant levels of pollution of various chemicals, including EtO.

The scientists measured air concentrations of EtO in the corridor over the course of a month. They used a “mobile lab” that included two vans that were equipped with technology to measure the chemical.

The Biden administration has sought to reduce emissions of ethylene oxide, which the EPA has linked to increased cancer risk in communities around the nation. Earlier this year, the administration issued a rule that it said was expected to cut sterilizer plants’ emissions by 90 percent.

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