Something stinks at the end of La.’s “Cancer Alley”


Louisiana is a state of contradiction — earning its official nickname of “Sportsman’s Paradise” with shimmering waters and miles of vibrant swampland, yet often in the shadow of so many strench-emitting oil and chemical plants, more per square mile than anywhere else in the world, that it gains the alternate nickname of “Cancer Alley.” Sadly, it’s not unusual for folks down here to complain of permeating foul odors — sometimes there’s a prime suspect, as when fumes overtook New Orleans in the days following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

But other times, residents report a horrible stench and — with so many prime suspects — no one knows the exact reason. A notable example of this is happening right now:

The Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are investigating widespread reports of odors, ranging from burning rubber to oil and gas, in the New Orleans area, according to spokesmen for both agencies.

“We have received calls from the public regarding the odors, and we’re currently investigating these issues and working to pinpoint the source,” said DEQ spokesman Tim Beckstrom.

“Personnel from Coast Guard Sector New Orleans are working with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to investigate the source of a report of a gas smell near Terrytown,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Bil Colclough.

Residents in Chalmette, Algiers and New Orleans began reporting odors to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade soon after 1 a.m. Wednesday, said Anna Hyrbyk, program manager for the environmental group.

So what’s the source? As the excellent environmental website Grist points out:

Nobody seems to know where the acrid smell is coming from. But given that it smells like toxic petrochemicals, it’s a pretty safe bet that the toxic petrochemicals industry has something to do with it.

That’s a good guess. (The folks at Grist also direct us to a very useful complaint map from our good friends at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.) Of course, we shouldn’t have to guess the source. But — to hammer home a theme that we’ve pounded on this site again and again and again — Louisianans have to rely on citizen groups like the Bucket Brigade because our state regulators are so inadequate. Time and time again, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been behind the curve in identifying and halting pollution — and this is yet another example.

Will they ever get to the bottom of this one? Don’t hold your breath.

On second thought, maybe you should.

To read about the unexplained odors from, please go to:

To learn more on the background of the mysterious smells, check out this posting at Grist:

You can check out the Bucket Brigade’s iWitness pollution map here:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • I live on the back end of Algiers, up against the Intracoastal Canal and directly across the river from the refineries in Chalmette and Mereux. I smelled what everyone else was smelling when I stepped outside at 8 a.m., as I typically do, for some “fresh air.” No, it wasn’t very fresh at the time but, miraculously, less than an hour later, a strong wind came up and carried the noxious odor away. It was like a miracle out of the Old Testament Book of Exodus. If I never believed in God before, this act would have convinced me that He exists and He is looking over us and looking out for us. So far I haven’t heard anyone else comment on this miraculous phenomenon. I couldn’t have been the only one who noticed it. Nonetheless, we can’t always count on God to hurl thunderbolts or create near-hurricane-force winds when we need them most. We mortals must do our part as well. To keep the air we breathe and the water we drink – both God-given gifts, by the way – as clean as they were when He generously bequeathed them to us. This could have been His way of saying, “OK, I helped you THIS time. Next time you’re on your own.” We need to heed that warning and do our part. Otherwise we could one day find ourselves standing beside the Red Sea, hoping it will open for us and it never does.

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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