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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sue industrial giant over persistent release of carcinogenic pollutants

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the EPA have filed a complaint to compel Denka Performance Elastomer to significantly reduce chloroprene emissions from its neoprene manufacturing plant in an area known as ‘Cancer alley’ in LaPlace, Louisiana. The EPA have long held that the company’s operations are a danger to public health due to the cancer risks associated with chloroprene. 

The two have been on a collision course for some time, in 2010 the EPA determined that chloroprene was ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans’, a claim disputed by Denka who alleged that the research was insufficiently rigorous. Delaying tactics such as this challenge to the research’s findings have enabled Denka to continue emitting chloroprene at levels that were known to be dangerous 13 years ago.

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Since the plant first opened in 1964 residents of the nearby St John the Baptist Parish have felt it has seriously impacted their health, with  disproportionate levels of cancer and people finding that breathing problems improved when they left the area.

According to the complaint, air monitoring  consistently shows long-term chloroprene concentrations in the air near the plant up to 14 times the level recommended for a 70-year lifetime of exposure

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said: ‘When I visited Saint John the Baptist Parish during my first Journey to Justice tour, I pledged to the community that EPA would take strong action to protect the health and safety of families from harmful chloroprene pollution from the Denka facility, This complaint filed against Denka delivers on that promise. The company has not moved far enough or fast enough to reduce emissions or ensure the safety of the surrounding community. This action is not the first step we have taken to reduce risks to the people living in Saint John the Baptist Parish, and it will not be the last.’

Just last week we ran a news story about the Biden administration awarding $550m in grants to help reduce pollution in disadvantaged communities. 

Image: Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

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