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Unequal: Read WFPL's Whole Series On Louisville's Toxic Air Pollution

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Louisville has a long, complicated history with air pollution. The coal that warmed people's homes and kept their lights on also filled the skies with soot and smoke. As the city changed, so did the air pollution.

Today, the air is cleaner and chemical, manufacturing and power plants contribute the largest share of the city's toxic air pollution among facilities.

But this pollution has a disproportionate impact on people of color and lower-income communities in western and southern sections of the city.

Last week, WFPL aired "Unequal," a five-part series examining this toxic air pollution, as well as the health risks and the people most affected by it.

Despite Progress, Louisville’s Toxic Air Still Mostly Affects Poor, Black Residents

Today, more than 80 percent of the toxic air pollution released by facilities in Jefferson County is in west and south Louisville, according to Environmental Protection Agency records.

Cancer Risk From Pollution Is Higher In West, South Louisville Neighborhoods

Myzirria Abdul-Shaheed has never heard about these chemical plants. She said she’s not familiar with the increased cancer risks.

“I feel like it’s not fair at all because we have children. I don’t want my child to have a higher risk of cancer,” Abdul-Shaheed said. “Who wants that for their child? Who wants that for themselves?”

How West Louisville Residents Cleaned Up The Air

Annie Haigler lives in Park DuValle in the West End. Her neighborhood is one of a number of fenceline communities that border the city’s chemical plant corridor known as Rubbertown. Last year, she spoke to the Courier Journal about odors that drift into her neighborhood.

Today, people living near toxic air polluters are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty and nearly three times as likely to be a person of color, according to a WFPL analysis.

It’s not a coincidence that environmental injustices like polluted air most often fall on disadvantaged communities,  said Eboni Cochran, co-director of Rubbertown Emergency ACTion. But over the years, much of the progress that's come about is a result of the actions of people who live in these communities.

Who Are Louisville’s Top Polluters?

Back in 2017, Evan King worked third shift as a security contractor at one of the largest air polluters in Jefferson County.

One odor that King said came from another nearby plant could get so bad, it would take his breath away. It smelled kind of like burnt garlic, he said.

What More Can Louisville Do To Improve Toxic Air Pollution?

Throughout this series, we've found people dedicated to improving the city’s air quality: students, scientists, local officials and activists. Here's what they are doing to try and bring about change.


This post has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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