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EPA inspection flames up concerns over plant's 'likely carcinogen' emission

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ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) -

A manufacturing plant pumping an EPA classified 'likely carcinogen' into the air violated the Clean Air Act at least 50 times during a recent inspection. 

The report on the Denka manufacturing plant in St. John the Baptist Parish said most of the violations stem from leaking pipes or pipes being uncapped, and even suggested 'the possible concentrations of chloroprene to which workers could be exposed might be hazardous'.

One of the investigator's finding said "calculations show there is a significant concentration of chloroprene that can be generated from the wastewater being generated in the poly unit. In terms of environmental release, the wastewater samples collected in the poly unit were from open sources flowing from the process vessel in open trenches into floor drains. Large fans in the poly unit push air into the building, but there is no emissions control device for the exhaust created by this ventilation."

According to the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment map, Denka puts residents who live and work near the facility at the highest risk of developing cancer in the country, specifically due to its chloroprene emissions. 

"This comes to me as some sort of vindication to let the people here know that we are not some weirdos. We are not some crazy people. This is real, and this is happening," St. John Concerned Citizen organizer Bobby Taylor said. "I lost my mother to a weird cancer, my brother, my other daughters have cancers, my neighbors and friends. If you knocked on these doors, you're aren't going to find a family that has not been touched by some terrible disease."

Taylor has complained about the emissions coming from the Denka for years. 

The facility makes neoprene, a rubber used to make wet suits and similar materials. The emission of making neoprene is chloroprene. 

"The issues that are identified in that report are really concerning as far as the community is concerned because it talks about the chemical chloroprene released from a large number of sources and as a result the people from the surrounding community and the schools and the hospital are being impacted," Louisiana Environmental Action Network's Wilma Subra said. 

Subra wants Denka held accountable for the violations. 

"The issue becomes this is a very sick community that is living around the facility and they are expecting the state and federal agencies to reduce that chloroprene concentration in the air they breathe every single day," Subra said. 

Last year, Denka and EPA went into an agreement to reduce chloroprene emissions by 85 percent, which would not meet the recommended standard of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter but would reduce the emissions to the lowest ever. 

In December, Louisiana DEQ Secretary Chuck Brown addressed St. John elected officials during a council meeting about Denka reducing emissions. 

"All of that is going to happen within the next three to five months. We should start seeing numbers, at that point even after the first installation, start trending downward," Brown said. 

While some recorded levels are lower, they continue to fluctuate. 

In May, chloroprene levels recorded at the six monitoring stations reached from 4.6 to 17.6, well above the recommended standard of .2 set by the EPA. 

"The clock is ticking on [Denka's] watch right now. We just want clean air, bottom line," St. John councilman Larry Sorapuru said. 

Sorapuru believes Denka has had enough time to reduce emissions.  

"The plant needs to be shut down until they get everything in place that's needed and come back up," Sorapuru said. "If you're not releasing chloroprene, that's fine. If chloroprene's getting out, you need to shut it down bottom line." 

Denka nor its lawyers responded to FOX 8's request for a comment. 

Tuesday night the Concerned Citizens of St. John plan to meet at the Tchoupitoulas Church on River Road in Reserve to discuss the EPA's latest findings on Denka. 

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