The Green House on Cancer Alley: Habitat for Humanity Efforts in New Orleans

Habitat for Humanity builds a PVC-free house.

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Volunteers work on a low-income house that contains no toxic PVC.

Photo Courtesy Greenpeace

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Habitat for Humanity’s first polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-free house—built in New Orleans—is a welcome sight, except to the Vinyl Institute and a few disgruntled neighbors: some of the country’s largest PVC producers.

Hammer Wielders: With help from many volunteers, Greenpeace, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, and the Healthy Building Network sponsored the house.

Frugal and Vinyl Free: The home was designed to be environmentally friendly while meeting Habitat’s standard $55,000 budget. “Like homelessness, pollution is a global problem—one that disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color,” says John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace. “This house is proof you don’t have to choose between a healthy environment and affordable housing.”

Shadow of Death: Most of Louisiana’s PVC plants are located on the outskirts of low-income, predominantly African-American communities along the Baton Rouge/New Orleans corridor known as “Cancer Alley.” Here, factory pollution contaminates air, water, and soil. A 1999 study conducted in Mossville, Louisiana— adjacent to several PVC factories—revealed dioxin concentrations in residents’ blood were three times higher than in a comparison group’s.

Get the PVC Out: Among the house’s PVC-free features are fiber-cement siding, metal–cased electrical wiring, aluminum-frame double-pane windows, natural linoleum tiles, and nylon carpeting. Copper pipes supply drinking water, and ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene)—an alternative plastic—was used for waste-water pipes.

Other Green Steps: Low-VOC paint, an energy-efficient heating/cooling system with ozone-friendly refrigerants, compact fluorescent lights, sustainably harvested southern pine framing, and arsenic- and chromium-free wood for the deck.

Learn more: Greenpeace.org