Uneasy Alchemy

From Urban and Industrial Environments

Uneasy Alchemy

Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes

By Barbara L. Allen





Louisiana annually reports over eight tons of toxic waste for each citizen. Uneasy Alchemy examines the role of experts—lawyers, economists, health professionals, and scientists—in the struggles for environmental justice in the state's infamous Chemical Corridor or "Cancer Alley." This legendary toxic zone between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is home to about 125 oil and chemical plants; cancer and respiratory illness rates there are among the highest in the nation. The efforts of residents to ensure a healthy environment is one of the most important social justice movements of the post-civil rights era. Louisiana is an especially appropriate venue for the examination of race, class, and politics within an environmental justice framework because of the critical role the chemical industry has played in the economic development of the state, and the weak record of state agencies in controlling toxic chemicals and enforcing environmental regulations. But while Louisiana suffers from some of the worst chemical pollution in the nation, it has also been the site of important environmental victories. Using ethnographic analysis of interviews with citizens, activists, and experts, media accounts, policy reports, government documents, minutes of hearings, and company statements, Barbara Allen identifies the factors that contribute to successful environmental justice efforts. She finds that the most successful strategies involved temporary alliances between local citizens and expert-activists, across lines of race and class, and between local and national organizations. These alliances were not easy to achieve—local citizens tend to mistrust outside experts and want fast action in response to health threats—but once formed, these powerful combinations of local and expert knowledge were an important force for action and change.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262012034 224 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262511346 224 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • A compelling analysis of one of this nation's legendary toxic zones. This book does a splendid job of examining the many voices, the myths, the science and its uncertainty, and does so within a theoretical framework that brings out much more than the original interview data reveal.

    Sheldon Krimsky

    Professor, Tufts University, and author of Science in the Private Interest

  • Presents a wonderfully complex portrait of the environmental justice movement that helps the reader to understand the tensions within the environmental movement, as well as the conflicts between environmental activists and industry.

    Gerald Markowitz

    Professor of History, John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York

  • Perceptive and empirically grounded, Uneasy Alchemy unites the academic insights of science and technology studies with the strong ethical principles of the environmental justice movement. Essential reading for those engaged in sustainability, environmental management, or scientific governance.

    Alan Irwin

    Professor of Sociology, Brunel University

  • With the authentic voice of a true Southern writer, Barbara allen has written an important and insightful volume which should be read by all. By applying and advancing narrative analysis, and by looking at chemicals, risk, and corridors in Louisiana, she has given us a rich and powerful lens through which to view the interaction between citizens and exports, as well as the future of democracy. I regard this book highly.

    John de la Mothe

    Canada Research Chair in Innovation Strategy, University of Ottawa