EPA: Racial disparity in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’

Oct 13, 2022, 4:49 PM | Updated: 5:39 pm
FILE - Myrtle Felton, from left, Sharon Lavigne, Gail LeBoeuf and Rita Cooper, members of RISE St. ...

FILE - Myrtle Felton, from left, Sharon Lavigne, Gail LeBoeuf and Rita Cooper, members of RISE St. James, conduct a live stream video on property owned by Formosa on March 11, 2020, in St. James Parish, La. The Environmental Protection Agency said it has evidence that Black residents in an industrial section of Louisiana face an increased risk of cancer from a nearby chemical plant and that state officials have allowed air pollution to remain high and downplayed its threat. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency said it has evidence that Black residents in an industrial section of Louisiana face an increased risk of cancer from a nearby chemical plant and that state officials have allowed air pollution to remain high and downplayed its threat.

The agency’s 56-page letter to Louisiana officials describes early findings of racial discrimination by two Louisiana departments involving the entire corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, a plant that EPA said emits large amounts of a cancer-causing chemical and a proposed plastics complex.

It said EPA has “significant evidence suggesting that the Departments’ actions or inactions” have hurt and are hurting Black residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, St. James Parish, and the 85-mile (137-kilometer) industrial corridor officially called the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor.

Robert Taylor, director of Concerned Citizens of St. John who asked the EPA to investigate the state, said his community has been failed “time and time again by every level of government.”

“This is a true and dire health emergency, and we are looking for urgent action by EPA to fix the problem in St. John where huge levels of chloroprene have just been found on top of the years of already unacceptable pollution we have been breathing,” Taylor said. “This must end.”

The letter dated Wednesday and posted on EPA’s website said it appears that for decades, the state Department of Environmental Quality has let a Denka polymer plant expose people who live nearby and children at an elementary school to enough chloroprene to increase their cancer risk.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says anyone who received federal funds may not discriminate based on race or national origin. The Biden administration has stepped up its enforcement of environmental discrimination, and Title VI is part of its promise to elevate environmental justice as a goal. In September, federal officials announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights in the EPA.

At the request of local environmental and activist groups, the EPA opened Title VI investigations into whether Louisiana regulators have discriminated against Black residents by failing to control air pollution in the industrial section of the state that some call “cancer alley.”

EPA said the state needs to consider the cumulative impact of pollution from three Denka units with overdue permit renewals and from any of Formosa’s 14 air permits for its proposed chemical facility that it keeps or reconsiders. A state judge in Baton Rouge overturned Formosa’s permits, but her ruling was stayed during an appeal, the EPA noted.

The state environmental department should set air permit limits in the entire corridor to reduce chemicals that can bring on cancer-causing mutations, EPA said. It said Louisiana’s health department should consider all ways to protect children at Fifth Ward Elementary School from chloroprene, including finding places to move them inside and out of St. John the Baptist Parish.

Jim Harris, a Denka spokesperson, rejected any suggestion the plant contributed to an increased cancer risk and said the threshold the EPA recommends for chloroprene is based on a “faulty and outdated exposure model.” The Denka facility has significantly reduced its emissions in recent years.

The investigation into the state’s practices is not over. The agency wants its initial findings to lead to an agreement with Louisiana officials to make significant changes to its air permitting program.

“EPA’s expectation is that the information contained in this Letter will help facilitate that process and result in an expeditious resolution of each of these Complaints,” the agency said in a statement.

The EPA’s letter said it has “significant concerns” that LDEQ administration of air quality permits may already be putting people near Formosa Plastics’ proposed complex at risk, “and that these risks appear to be borne disproportionately by the Black residents.”

“They see what we are going through and they see that this is environmental racism,” said Sharon Lavigne, who founded Rise St. James to fight Formosa Plastics’ $9.4 billion plans for 10 plants and four other facilities near Welcome, a mostly Black community of about 670.

Lisa Jordan, director of Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic and an attorney on the Title VI complaint targeting Formosa, said the EPA’s letter reflects that it’s taking the complaint seriously.

The letter “was not a finding, but rather a step in the ongoing process,” the state Department of Environmental Quality said. The agency said it will keep working “to resolve any issues and is committed to being protective of human health and the environment.”

The Louisiana Department of Health did not immediately respond to an email and calls requesting comment.

Formosa’s Louisiana affiliate, FG LA LLC, “will meet all state and federal standards, which were established in order to protect the community and the environment,” said spokesperson Janile Parks. She said the company believes its permits are sound and that the state met its duty to protect the environment.

___

Michael Phillis reported from St. Louis.

___

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - An election worker verifies a ballot on a screen inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office...
Associated Press

Arizona counties face deadline to certify 2022 election

Six Arizona counties must decide Monday whether to certify 2022 election results amid pressure from some Republicans not to officially approve a vote count that had Democrats winning for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide races.
9 hours ago
FILE - Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on No...
Associated Press

Irish watchdog fines Meta 265M euros in latest privacy case

LONDON (AP) — Irish regulators slapped Facebook parent Meta with a 265 million-euro ($277 million) fine Monday, the company’s latest punishment for breaching strict European Union data privacy rules. The Data Protection Commission said Meta Platforms infringed sections of the EU rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, that require technical and organizational measures […]
9 hours ago
This image shows the logo for the website and newsletter TheRighting, founded by long-time New York...
Associated Press

The Righting deciphers conservative media for outsiders

NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly six years into monitoring the content of conservative media outlets for his website and newsletter The Righting, Howard Polskin hasn’t lost the capacity for surprise. Case in point: when Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential candidacy, and many of his long-time media allies let fly with anger and insults. Two […]
9 hours ago
This photo shows Charles Graves dressed as Santa Claus in Austin, Texas on on Sept. 3, 2022. Graves...
Associated Press

Santa’s back in town with inflation, inclusion on his mind

NEW YORK (AP) — Don’t look for plastic partitions or faraway benches when visiting Santa Claus this year. The jolly old elf is back, pre-pandemic style, and he’s got some pressing issues on his mind. Santa booker HireSanta.com has logged a 30% increase in demand this Christmas season over last year, after losing about 15% […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and wife Gisele arrive to vote in Braddock, Pa, Tuesday...
Associated Press

Pennsylvania campaign wildcard Fetterman turns to governing

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — When John Fetterman goes to Washington in January as one of the Senate’s new members, he’ll bring along an irreverent style from Pennsylvania that extends from his own personal dress code — super casual — to hanging marijuana flags outside his current office in the state Capitol. Pennsylvania’s unique lieutenant governor, […]
9 hours ago
Associated Press

This Week: Consumer confidence, consumer spending, jobs data

A look at some of the key business events and economic indicators upcoming this week: CONFIDENCE CHECK The Conference Board delivers its latest index of U.S. consumer confidence Tuesday. Economists expect the reading fell in November to 98. That would follow a reading of 102.5 in October. A reading of 90 or better reflects a […]
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
EPA: Racial disparity in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’