• Views 365
  • Favorites


May 19, 2021


80 minutes


6th, 7th, 8th


Social Studies, English Language Arts, Justice, Health

Resource Language:


Regional Focus

North America, United States


Google Sheets

A Look at Cancer Alley, Louisiana


In this lesson, students explore an interactive map, learn about Cancer Alley, and take concrete action to address environmental injustice.

Step 1 - Inquire: Students explore the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool to use real data to start thinking about the relationship between demographic and environmental indicators (also known as environmental justice indicators).

Step 2 - Investigate: Students watch a video about Cancer Alley to show an example of a Black community disproportionately affected by asthma, cancer, and death from COVID-19 that will spark a classroom discussion on what the role of government and business should be in this issue.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students write a letter to a government official or business leader urging them to take action. Students can also create a social media post raising awareness about environmental justice.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
30 minutes
  • Teacher reads definitions of environmental justice.

  • Teacher shares the EPA's 12 Environmental Justice Indexes.

  • Teacher goes to the EPA website and reads the sections “What the Environmental Justice Index Means” and “How the EJ Index Works.”

  • Students get into small groups and each group is assigned a different area. Options include New Orleans, LA; Detroit, MI; New York City, NY; Seattle, WA; Cleveland, OH; East St. Louis, IL.

  • Students explore EPA's Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. For additional support, teachers can preview instructions on how to use EJSCREEN.

    • Students enter their assigned area in the search bar.

    • Students select "Reports" and click “Drop a Pin.”

    • Students drop a pin in their city and select “Get Printable Standard Report…”

    • Students average the twelve EJ Index "Percentile in EPA Region" values to get a final “Environmental Justice Score” for that region.

    • Students complete at least four pins with a one-mile radius around their cities.

  • Students share some of their findings, noticings, and wonderings with the entire class.

30 minutes
  • This resource is about Cancer Alley, Louisiana. It is an 85-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Most people who live here are Black. People living in Cancer Alley are disproportionately affected by asthma, cancer, and death from COVID-19.
  • Teacher shows the video: “One Reason Why Coronavirus Hits Black People the Hardest."
  • Teacher facilitates a discussion with the students with the following questions:
    • What should state, local, and federal governments do about this issue?
    • What should business leaders do about this issue?
20 minutes
  • Students write to government or business leaders or create a social media post educating others about environmental justice.

  • This can be an assignment after the class has ended.

  • Students can use the following resources: 

Teaching Tips
  • This lesson clearly connects redlining and environmental racism.
  • This lesson shows a concrete example of the effects of systemic racism in the United States.
Additional Prerequisites
  • Some students may never have discussed racism and climate change before. Meet your students where they are and encourage them to ask good questions.
  • When teaching this sequence, it’s important to acknowledge the historical facts that have led to this injustice. Here are some resources to help you:

    • Government entities suppressed the Black vote through different means until the Voting Rights Act in 1965. (Source: history.com)
    • Redlining was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968. (Source: ThoughtCo)


  • It may be necessary to offer the letter-writing as an extension or an extra credit opportunity.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of your students, as systemic racism affects them in different ways.

Scientist Notes

  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.6.6-8 Describe the roles of political, civil, and economic organizations in shaping people's lives.
    • Dimension 2: Geography
      • D2.Geo.2.6-8 Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions, and changes in their environmental characteristics.
      • D2.Geo.5.6-8 Analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places.
    • Dimension 2: History
      • D2.His.14.6-8 Explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Writing (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.


Login to leave a review