Denka toxic releases targeted by St. John Parish group, EPA inspector general |
An environmental group is demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency take emergency actions to reduce chloroprene emissions at the Denka Performance Elastomer manufacturing plant in LaPlace and ethylene oxide emissions at two nearby chemical plants, charging that EPA’s own data show nearby minority and low-income residents of St. John the Baptist Parish face the highest risk of cancer in the country.
The petition was filed with EPA Administrator Michael Regan on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of St. John group on Thursday, the same day that EPA’s own inspector general also demanded that the agency move quickly to upgrade regulation of chloroprene and ethylene oxide to reduce cancer risks in St. John and Ascension parishes and 16 other U.S. locations.
“The high cancer rates in St. John the Baptist Parish are an emblematic example of environmental racism,” said Maryum Jordan, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing the activists group. “The communities affected by the Denka facility would greatly benefit from comprehensive, protective air regulations.”
The inspector general report also tied increased regulation to environmental justice concerns.
“Minority and low-income populations are disproportionately impacted by chloroprene and ethylene oxide emissions,” the report said, adding that EPA’s own environmental justice screening tool found that “100 percent of the people living in the same census block group where Denka is located are minorities and 49 percent of them are low-income.”
The report recommends EPA conduct new “residual risk and technology reviews” for chloroprene and ethylene oxide manufacturing to address the elevated cancer risk faced by nearly a half million people in census tracts near chloroprene and ethylene oxide manufacturers “and to achieve environmental justice.” Those studies would result in new risk values that would then require EPA to consider adopting lower emission limits. EPA concluded chloroprene was a likely human carcinogen in 2010, and that ethylene oxide was a carcinogen in 2016.
A spokesman for Denka repeated the company’s contention that it has never violated its state permitted emission limits. The company is operating under a 2018 voluntary compliance agreement with Louisiana state government to install new equipment that has dramatically reduced its emissions. That agreement did not reduce its official emission limits, however.
Denka spokesman David LaPlante said EPA’s own risk website indicates that steps taken by the company have reduced the potential risk of cancer by 85%, based on 2019 emissions.
And he said the company has asked EPA to reconsider its listing of chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen, based on a company-sponsored peer-reviewed study that concluded the chemical was much less cancer-causing than EPA found.
According to a 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment by EPA, the individual lifetime cancer risk from both chemicals was at the rate of 2,000 cases per 1 million individuals at the census tract level near the Denka plant, the highest in the United States.