Motions filed to dismiss lawsuit against St. John plant emitting 'likely carcinogen'

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Attorneys for Denka Performance Elastomer and the plant's former owner, DuPont, filed motions to dismiss a lawsuit against their clients due to a lack of evidence linking chloroprene emissions to cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies chloroprene as a likely carcinogen.

In 2015, the EPA released the National Air Toxics Assessment Map that singled out Denka and claimed the plant's chloroprene emissions put residents who live and work nearby at the highest risk of developing cancer, long-term, in the nation. The EPA says strong scientific data and research checked by experts in the field led to its findings.

In July, 18 St. John the Baptist Parish residents sued the companies over health risk.

Attorney Eb Garrison, who represents the residents, said a urinalysis conducted on the 18 residents in the suit revealed traces of chloroprene in their system.

Denka argues the EPA's study is wrong and used incomplete data for its conclusion.

In the motion to dismiss, plant attorneys argued "the residents do not allege any present injury, but only speculate about the possibility of injuries, damages and future scientific developments that could someday occur".

There is no scientific data linking long-term chloroprene exposure to cancer because no such study has ever been conducted on people until now.

Air monitors around the plant have recorded chloroprene levels since May 2016.  At this time, those recordings and new cancer cases diagnosed for people living near the plant are being used to conduct EPA's long-term study of chloroprene exposure.

The motion to dismiss claims residents "failed to state a claim" because there is no scientific data backing up the complaint.

"We feel we have a very strong science behind us, very good studies that show that chloroprene exposure - even long-term exposure to workers - does not cause cancer. As a matter of fact, the workers showed a lower rate of cancer than the normal population. I think that's the strongest argument to our science," Denka Plant Manager Jorge Lavistida said last month.

The Louisiana Tumor Registry said the rate of cancer in St. John the Baptist Parish is lower than the rest of the state.

"We haven't seen that huge spike of cancer in this area. It's hard to say that the chloroprene exposure for all this time has really caused more cancer than any place else in the country where there is no chloroprene, and that's what we are looking at," Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Health Officer Jimmy Guidry said.

Guidry said the state is working with Denka to reduce emissions.

Denka has spent more than $25 million in an effort to reduce its chloroprene emissions by 85 percent by the end of the year, according to Lavistida.

"People want a black and white answer. It's not," Guidry said. "It's definitely a complicated answer, and says if you are exposed to this level for a continuous exposure for this many years, your risk of cancers is one in a million or one in a hundred thousand. That's how it's going to be reported out, and that is not going to satisfy some people. It's really trying to figure out what we are being exposed to and the risk and it's a calculated risk."

Garrison said he plans to file oppositions to the motions to dismiss.

The claim is expected to be heard by a federal judge in February.

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