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US demands chemical plant immediately reduce cancer-causing emissions

Department of Justice officials filed a motion to order a company to immediately reduce harmful emissions of chloroprene, a likely carcinogen.
The Denka Performance Elastomer Plant sits at sunset in Reserve, La., Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.
Posted at 6:54 PM, Mar 20, 2023

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are responding to concerning levels of a likely carcinogen being released into the air by Denka Performance Elastomer LLC. 

In February the DOJ filed a complaint alleging, under Section 303 of the Clean Air Act, that the company's Louisiana plant is an "imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare due to the cancer risks" that come from Denka Performance Elastomer’s chloroprene emissions.  

On Monday the DOJ filed a motion on behalf of the EPA requesting an injunction under the Clean Air Act that would require Denka to implement "significant pollution controls to reduce chloroprene emissions."

The EPA agrees that the chemical is a likely carcinogen. 

EPA Administrator Michel S. Regan said Monday, “All communities deserve to breathe fresh, clean air, it is one of EPA’s top priorities as we work to protect human health and the environment.”

Thousands of residents in southeastern Louisiana could be facing danger living near the chemical plant, officials said. 

The DOJ says the company, which manufactures the flexible material neoprene, found in products like wet suits, orthopedic braces and beverage cozies, is emitting dangerous levels of the raw material chloroprene used in the manufacturing process. DuPont Specialty Products USA LLC is also named in a court complaint. 

Dr. Earthea Nance, an EPA administrator, said, “Transparent engagement with the community is a top priority because people who live near Denka deserve to understand the purpose of the motion filed today and what EPA hopes to achieve by bringing this Clean Air Act Imminent and Substantial Endangerment case.”

Officials said around 20% of the population living within a 2.5 mile radius around the chemical plant in LaPlace, Louisiana are under the age of 18. 

While Denka said it had reduced emissions by 85% since taking over the plant in 2015, the EPA says the estimated risk of cancer caused by the plant's air pollution issues still remains one of the highest in the United States. 

According to the EPA, a peer-reviewed assessment of chloroprene in 2010 determined that it is a likely human carcinogen. The EPA said between 800-1,000 children in the area around the LaPlace plant are under age five, and has determined that children under 16 are particularly vulnerable to "mutagenic carcinogens like chloroprene."