New Orleans neighborhood confronts highway’s toxic legacy

Photo credit: Kendall Hoopes

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

NPR Shots, the news organization’s landing page for health stories, recently reported that the New Orleans Treme neighborhood is confronting what reporter Drew Hawkins calls a “racist legacy” of a toxic stretch of highway that runs through the neighborhood. The I-10 Claiborne Expressway was built in the 1960s, and considered a marker of significant economic development in urban America. But around the county, this “progress” came at a huge cost for low income, Black and Brown neighborhoods, “dividing communities and polluting the air,” Hawkins wrote.

The federal government is now making an effort to address this decades-long issue though the Reconnecting Communities initiative, established in the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Claiborne Avenue Alliance, a group of locals working to revitalize the community after the highway destroyed local businesses, submitted a proposal outlining locals’ vision for a solution. But the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana also submitted a proposal, which was ultimately the one selected by the federal government. That plan does not move the highway, but includes some measures to improve public safety and welfare.

Similar highways were also built in Montgomery, Alabama (I-85), Nashville, Tennessee (I-40) and in many other cities across the country. So why am I writing about highways on a noise site? Because one the ways these highways are devastating to the health of low-income communities is by spewing particulate particulate matter into the air, and creating dangerous levels of noise. The Louisiana State University School of Public Health is managing an EPA study looking at the health impacts of pollution under the Claiborne Expressway. A graduate researcher found that noise levels were “as loud as a motorcycle engine up close and could cause permanent hearing damage after an hour or so of exposure.”

Noise from vehicle exhausts, tires and horn use is the unwanted auditory accompaniment to gaseous and particulate matter pollution from internal combustion engines. Dealing with misplaced highways and continued vehicle electrification will ultimately make the world a cleaner and greener place, and a quieter one too.

Share this article:

Article Categories

Search Articles