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Is heavily polluting a community a breach of its human rights?

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights has agreed to hear a precedent-setting case against the United States based on environmental racism in Cancer Alley, as a breach of human rights. Heavily polluting industries are often concentrated in poor areas, typically occupied by minorities. In the United States, these minorities tend to be black. The Canadian equivalents may be First Nations communities, such as the reserve just downwind of Sarnia’s Chemical Valley.

The IACHR case relates to an African American hamlet named Mossville, Louisiana. 14 heavy industries lie between Mossville and its neighbour, Westlake, including an oil refinery, a coal burning power station and several vinyl chloride manufacturers. Mossville residents have dioxin levels in their blood three times the national average, and a wide range of illneses that might be associated with that exposure, even though the industries are complying with state and federal law. More about this will appear in our new column on SLAW, Canada’s top legal blog.

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