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Local Spotlight: Toxic air pollution in West Virginia

Institute is a small town in West Virginia and one of two majority-Black census tracts in a state that is 94 percent white. It’s home toWest Virginia State University, an HBCU whose alumni includes NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (who was featured in the film “Hidden Figures”).

And nestled near Institute is the Union Carbide chemical manufacturing plant, owned by Dow Chemical. And while it’s been a source for jobs in the area for decades, many residents of Institute associate the plant with chemical leaks and fires.

Last year, a West Virginia state health department reportfound that the towns of Institute and South Charleston are seeing a spike in cancer related to ethylene oxide, a chemical produced at the Union Carbide plant. However, the report included thecaveatthat, “it is not possible to attribute those cancers to exposure to ethylene oxide, as there are many potential exposures from a variety of sources.” 

In this edition of Local Spotlight, we talk to the reporter behind an investigation into the toxic air pollution in Institute, West Virginia, and explore how the town compares to other Black communities in the country that face disproportionate health risks from air pollution.

Copyright 2022 WAMU 88.5

Arfie Ghedi