EPA Sues Denka to Cut Deadly Chloroprene Emissions in Cancer Alley

St. John the Baptist Parish has one of the highest cancer rates in the country due to the facility’s emissions


Zahra Ahmad, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today asked a federal court to compel Denka Performance Elastomer to immediately and significantly reduce chloroprene emissions from its chemical facility in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, an area with one of the highest cancer risks from toxic air pollution in the nation. EPA’s action stems from an emergency action petition from Earthjustice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, on behalf of Concerned Citizens of St. John.

The EPA’s complaint acts on environmental advocates’ claims that the Denka facility, which uses the toxic chemical chloroprene to make synthetic rubber used for products like wetsuits, presents imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare due to the cancer risks from its emissions. Chloroprene emissions can also damage people’s nervous, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, blood, and immune systems.

“EPA’s action today is a long-awaited answer to the community’s repeated calls for immediate action. EPA is finally treating this health crisis for what it is — an emergency” said Earthjustice Attorney Deena Tumeh. “We hope this complaint will lead to a swift and significant reduction in chloroprene emissions.”

In May 2021, the Louisiana advocacy group Concerned Citizens of St. John called on EPA to immediately address the public health crisis industry caused by polluting their air with toxic chemical emissions. EPA itself has concluded that the community faces unacceptable cancer risk and that the majority (85%) of that risk comes from chloroprene emissions from the Denka facility.

EPA has known about chloroprene’s toxicity since 2010 when the agency’s scientists found it is likely carcinogenic and created a cancer risk value for it. During an EPA inspection of the Denka facility in 2022, federal agents had to leave the premises because of the high chloroprene concentrations in the air.

Concerned Citizens of St. John and Sierra Club also filed a complaint with EPA alleging that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Department of Health violated Black residents’ civil rights by failing to protect them from disproportionate toxic air pollution. EPA conducted an initial investigation and concluded that there is no question that elevated cancer risk from chloroprene disproportionately impacts Black residents in St. John the Baptist Parish. The agency is attempting to reach an agreement with state departments to resolve the complaint. The state departments have denied the complaint’s allegations.

EPA is supposed to propose a new rule for chloroprene emissions on March 31. The agency has not updated the rule since its conclusion that chloroprene is likely a carcinogenic chemical that can irreversibly damage people’s health.

Quotes from our clients:

“This is a positive move in the right direction and the first time we’ve gotten movement in six years. I have faith they’ll follow through,” said St. John Concerned Citizens President Mary Hampton. “This brings us hope. It’s been a long time coming. We need action now for our children and want this to be put in place immediately.”

“We are grateful that the EPA is finally taking the first steps to protect this community,” said Director of Concerned Citizens of St. John Robert Taylor. “For too long, St. John has been failed by every layer of government and we are now facing a dire health emergency and the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation as a result. EPA must continue to advance environmental justice, as promised, under the leadership of President Biden and Administrator Regan.”

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