Last Monday, the United States lodged a lawsuit against two businesses responsible for a highly toxic petrochemical factory in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley.
Neoprene, a synthetic rubber used for everything from laptop covers to wetsuits, is produced at the Pontchartrain Works complex. Yet in order to do so, it emits chloroprene, a potentially carcinogenic substance that is mostly to blame for Reserve, Louisiana, having the greatest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation—50 times the national average—according to a 2019 study by The Guardian.
The lawsuit, according to Mary Hampton, president of Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, where Reserve is located, is a step in the right direction. It has taken a while to happen.
According to an EPA press statement, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana collaborated to submit the lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It lists two businesses: the American chemical behemoth DuPont Specialty Products USA LLC, which owns the land beneath the factory and serves as Denka’s landlord, and the Japanese-based Denka Performance Elastomer LLC, which owns and runs the plant. In accordance with the Clean Air Act’s section 303, the complaint seeks to compel Denka to lower its emissions of chloroprene.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta made the claim in a press statement. “We allege that Denka’s emissions have resulted in hazardous amounts of carcinogenic chloroprene near residences and schools in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana,” she stated.
In order to achieve environmental justice, the Justice Department must make sure that every community, regardless of its demographics, has access to clean air and water. We want to stop Denka’s harmful pollution via our lawsuit.
Like other carcinogens, chloroprene is particularly harmful to developing youngsters. Nonetheless, the factory is only 450 feet from the 5th Ward Elementary School, where more than 300 students attend, and 1.5 miles from the 1,200-student East St. John High School.
According to the lawsuit, emissions are still so high that a child would experience a two-year cancer risk greater than their lifetime risk if they breathed air near certain monitors near the facility’s fence line, according to a Facebook post by Yvonne Leche Perkins of Concerned Citizens of St. John.
According to the press release, long-term chloroprene concentrations close to the plant are as much as 14 times higher than what is advised over a 70-year lifespan based on air monitoring done by both the EPA and Denka.
Denka responded by stating that, as The Guardian noted, it strongly disagrees with the accusation.
DPE stated in a statement obtained by The Guardian that it complies with all applicable laws and regulations as well as its air licenses. By asserting an emergency based on out-of-date and incorrect science that the agency presented more than 12 years ago, EPA is taking an unprecedented step away from its permitting and rulemaking responsibilities.
According to AP News, the claim is a part of the Biden administration’s efforts to clean up Cancer Alley, a stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and Louisiana known for its petrochemical factories that disproportionately affect Black and low-income neighborhoods.
As part of an environmental justice tour, EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited the area in late 2021 and promised to take action, including allocating $600,000 for air quality monitoring.
During my first Journey to Justice tour, I stopped at Saint John the Baptist Parish, where I promised the locals that the EPA will take decisive action to safeguard their health and safety from dangerous chloroprene pollution from the Denka factory.
The complaint that was brought against Denka fulfills that commitment. For the community’s safety or to cut pollution, the corporation has not acted quickly or far enough. We have already taken other steps to lessen hazards for residents of Saint John the Baptist Parish, and this is not the last.