AP

US sues chemical company over cancer risk to minority area

Feb 28, 2023, 1:40 PM | Updated: 11:12 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials sued a Louisiana chemical maker on Tuesday, alleging that it presents an unacceptable cancer risk to the nearby majority-Black community and demanding cuts in toxic emissions.

Denka Performance Elastomer LLC makes synthetic rubber, emitting the carcinogen chloroprene and other chemicals in such high concentrations that it poses an unacceptable cancer risk, according to the federal complaint. Children are particularly vulnerable. There is an elementary school a half-mile from the plant.

The former DuPont plant has reduced its emissions over time, but the Justice Department, suing on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the plant still represents “an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare,” including elevated cancer risks.

“The company has not moved far enough or fast enough to reduce emissions or ensure the safety of the surrounding community,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Denka, a Japanese company that bought the rubber-making plant in 2015, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. A company spokesperson said in September that advocates described a crisis that “simply does not exist.”

Denka’s facility makes neoprene, a flexible, synthetic rubber used to produce common goods such as wetsuits, laptop sleeves, orthopedic braces and automotive belts and hoses. Chloroprene is a liquid raw material used to produce neoprene and is emitted into the air from various areas at the facility.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said every community, no matter its demographics, should be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water. “Our suit aims to stop Denka’s dangerous pollution,” she said in a statement.

The lawsuit demands that Denka eliminate dangerous emissions of chloroprene. Air monitoring consistently shows long-term chloroprene concentrations in the air near Denka’s LaPlace plant as high as 15 times the levels recommended for a 70-year exposure to the chemical, the complaint says.

The complaint is the latest move by the Biden administration that targets pollution in an 85-mile stretch from New Orleans to Baton Rouge officially known as the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, but more commonly called Cancer Alley. The region contains several hot spots where cancer risks are far above levels deemed acceptable by the EPA. The White House has prioritized environmental enforcement in communities overburdened by long-term pollution.

Regan visited the parish in 2021 during a five-day trip from Mississippi to Texas that highlighted low-income, mostly minority communities adversely affected by industrial pollution. A Toxics Release Inventory prepared by EPA shows that minority groups make up 56% of those living near toxic sites such as refineries, landfills and chemical plants. Negative effects include chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension.

Last year, the EPA said it had evidence that Black residents face an increased cancer risk from the chemical plant and that state officials allowed the pollution to remain too high. The agency’s letter was part of an investigation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says anyone who receives federal funds cannot discriminate based on race or national origin.

Local activists have long targeted the plant, arguing that nearby air monitoring demonstrates the plant is a danger to St. John the Baptist Parish residents.

The Justice Department, in its complaint, agreed, saying the plant is exposing thousands of people to lifetime cancer risks “multiples of times higher than what is typically considered acceptable.”

Mary Hampton, president of Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, said emissions at the plant need to drop quickly.

“It’s a positive move in the right direction,” she said of the federal lawsuit. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said the DOJ’s lawsuit helps ensure that Black communities in Louisiana don’t have to live with deadly pollution.

“For decades Black families have been human experiments for the petrochemical industry in Louisiana,” she said.

__

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

A Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane's structure after it went into a “Dutch ro...

Associated Press

Plane that did ‘Dutch roll’ on flight from Phoenix suffered structural damage, investigators say

A Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane's structure after it went into a “Dutch roll” during a flight from Phoenix last month.

3 days ago

This photo provided by Randy Shannon shows Mooney Falls on the Havasupai reservation outside the vi...

Associated Press

Dozens report illness after trips to waterfalls near Grand Canyon

Dozens of hikers say they fell ill during trips to a popular Arizona tourist destination that features towering blue-green waterfalls deep in a gorge neighboring Grand Canyon National Park.

3 days ago

Mugshot of Rudy Giuliani, who was processed Monday, June 10, 2024, in the Arizona fake electors cas...

Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani posts $10K cash bond after being processed in Arizona fake electors case

Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Donald Trump attorney, was processed Monday in the Arizona fake electors case.

6 days ago

FILE - White House former chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters at the White House, Wed...

Associated Press

Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows pleads not guilty in Arizona fake elector case

Former Donald Trump presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump 2020 Election Day operations director Michael Roman pleaded not guilty Friday in Phoenix to nine felony charges for their roles in an effort to overturn Trump's Arizona election loss to Joe Biden.

10 days ago

deadly heat wave last summer...

Associated Press

After a deadly heat wave last summer, metro Phoenix is changing tactics

Fresh memories of the deadly heat wave last summer have led Arizona authorities to launch new tactics ahead of summer 2024.

20 days ago

A Yuma man has been arrested for allegedly starting a wildfire in a national wildlife preserve near...

Associated Press

Man accused of starting wildfire in national wildlife preserve in Yuma

A Yuma man has been arrested for allegedly starting a wildfire in a national wildlife preserve near the California border.

21 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

US sues chemical company over cancer risk to minority area