EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Wednesday announced bold steps to help communities historically and disproportionately impacted by pollution, with programs including surprise pollution inspections at petrochemical and other facilities and strengthened emissions standards for a toxic chemical called ethylene oxide. The agency also said it will invest $600,000 to bolster air pollution monitoring in the 80-mile stretch of Louisiana along the Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley,” where enslaved Africans were forced to labor, serves as an industrial hub.

There are nearly 150 oil refineries, plastics plants and chemical facilities and today the ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants and it has not only polluted the surrounding water and air, but also subjected the mostly African American residents in St. James Parish to cancer, respiratory diseases and other health problems. The program announcement comes two months after Regan visited communities in three southern states that he said directly influenced his decisions to improve communities through national initiatives and localized action.

“When I was in Louisiana, nearly everyone I spoke with had a family member or neighbor who’s been impacted by a serious illness,” he said in a call to journalists. “We’re talking about generations of people living just a stone throw away from industrial facilities who may be sickened by the air that they breathe.” (Plaquemine Post-South, Washington Post $, New York Times $, EE News $, Reuters, AP. An Older Series: Freedom to Breathe: Climate Justice in America)