Air of Uncertainty: Parish president vows to oversee plant's emission reduction

LAPLACE, LA (WVUE) - The emissions coming out of the Denka Performance Elastomer facility in St. John the Baptist Parish frightens residents and parish leaders alike.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the chemical chloroprene being released into the air at the plant puts people at highest risk of developing cancer in the nation.

"This is a small community, so the people who are concerned are people we know. We are not just going to let things happen," Parish President Natalie Robottom said.

Robottom has met with Denka, EPA, Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality and residents several times since learning about the possible risk of chloroprene.

The EPA recognizes chloroprene as a likely carcinogen.

"Know that your elected officials are working very closely with DEQ, EPA and Denka to make sure the goal that is set is achieved," Robottom said.

"It's extremely dangerous over the long term," Louisiana Environmental Action Network's Wilma Subra said. "It's being released into that residential area where the schools are and where the churches are for 47 years. It's a really big deal and needs to be addressed immediately."

But while the federal government warns of the potential dangers, Denka said it's following all state and local regulations. The plant is permitted to allow 857 micrograms per cubic meter of chloroprene emissions per eight hours.

But the EPA's health recommendation is much lower than that at .02 micrograms per cubic meter for long term exposure, which is roughly 70 years.

Despite Denka arguing the EPA's data is flawed, the plant agreed to install $15 million to $20 million worth of new technology to reduce emissions. Subra commends the work Denka is doing to reduce emissions, but she is concerned by recent recordings of chloroprene levels around the plant.

"Based on the data that I've been evaluating, the months of October and September the emission are even higher in the community, so that concerns me greatly," Subra said.

To begin a study, DEQ recently placed six air quality monitors near the plant two at nearby schools, and found chloroprene at levels hundreds of times higher than the recommendation of .02 micrograms per cubic meter.

Denka plans to reduce the emissions by 85 percent by the end of 2017, according to Robottom.

She says her talks with the DEQ'S secretary assures Denka will be held accountable and her residents will be safe.

"We've been assured by Dr. Brown and DEQ that if our area was in any imminent danger that they would shut the plant down and at this point, he's comfortable with the progress that they are making," she said. "They set a standard. They are monitoring it, and they are moving in that direction. At this point, they don't suggest that there should be any alarm."

There is a correlation between chloroprene exposure and cancer found in lab mice and rats. But at this time, there is no scientific correlation between chloroprene exposure and cancer in humans.

However, there has been no long-term study of chloroprene's effect on people.

DEQ also placed an air quality monitor across the river in St. John Parish to measure exposure in that area as well.

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