Institute is a small town in West Virginia and one of two majority-Black census tracks in a state that is 94 percent white. It’s home to West 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 report found 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.
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.