In A Flash

St. James Parish resident to testify at United Nations session on “Cancer Alley”

By: - March 24, 2021 6:00 pm

Sharon Lavigne, pictured at left holding the bouquet of roses, founded the environmental justice group RISE St. James in 2018 in response to Formosa Plastics plan to build a $9.4B manufacturing plant in St. James Parish. In this photo from June 19, 2020, members of RISE St. James pray over the graves of formerly enslaved Black people. Formosa is planning to build its manufacturing complex there. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

A St. James Parish resident who has been pushing for cleaner air surrounding her home in “Cancer Alley” will address the United Nations Working Group on Peoples of African Descent on Thursday. The session is public and available online through the OHCHR’s website.

Sharon Lavigne, founder of the grassroots, faith-based activist organization RISE St. James, will address the U.N. group during its Thematic Discussion on Race and the Climate Crisis. Her testimony comes on the heels of a statement issued by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on March 2 that denounced the heavily industrialized Cancer Alley as environmental racism. 

Lavigne collaborated with Loyola law students in the college’s Human Rights Advocacy Project to petition the U.N. group to assist her in fighting for her community in St. James. The retired teacher wrote to the group in November alleging the ongoing violation of her community’s basic rights to life, health, a safe environment, and freedom from racial discrimination evidenced by the St. James Parish government’s pattern of placing highly toxic petrochemical industries in her predominantly Black neighborhood of St. James, according to a Loyola press release.

Lavigne was invited to testify before the group’s upcoming public virtual 28th session on “Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and People of African Descent,” at 2 p.m. on Thursday. The session will be broadcast live and archived at

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.