Air of Uncertainty: Lawsuit alleges plant emissions cause physical pain

Updated: Nov. 16, 2018 at 9:26 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A plant at the center of criticism for possibly causing cancer is now facing another lawsuit. In another Air of Uncertainty report, we talk to residents who say the plant’s chloroprene emissions harm and impact their day-to-day lives.

For nearly two decades, Juanea Butler has raised her family and worked as a teacher in Laplace.

“When I started working, I noticed that I began coughing a lot. I was coughing so much my family was concerned,” said Butler.

That was six years ago. She said she kept excusing the coughing, the wheezing, the sinus problems, heart palpitations as a simple cold, until she couldn’t ignore her body any longer.

“I felt like, you know how when you feel you’re drowning? You’re so stuffed up you feel you can’t gasp,” said Butler.

She went to multiple doctors, underwent multiple surgeries and is on several medications, but still no relief or explanation for her pain and discomfort. It wasn’t until a community meeting about chloroprene concerns caused her to wonder if there might be a connection.

“To know if you’re having something in the air, you know, it’s bad and you continue to have it go in the air and you know it’s affecting people and you know there are side effects that are causing it. It’s just not fair,” said Butler.

Since the EPA notified the Denka plant of potential concerns, Denka said it has implemented projects to reduce and monitor chloroprene emissions in and around the site.

Butler is named in a class action lawsuit maintaining the chloroprene emissions cause people living nearby physical pain. She said listing her symptoms is embarrassing and depressing.

But the lawsuit lays it out in black and white: heart and thyroid problems, respiratory, vomiting and other issues, all pointing to the chloroprene emissions from the nearby Denka plant as the cause.

Butler said she hasn’t been diagnosed with cancer like some of her neighbors, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t suffer. Danny Russell, the attorney for the case against Denka, said they have no idea how far-reaching or how many generations could be affected from the years of exposure. But he said the number of calls into his office now might be an indication.

"The fact is you have people in Laplace, Louisiana working, going to school - they can’t live their daily lives like other people outside of Laplace can. They’re constantly exposed to toxic chemicals, and it’s affecting their daily lives…Someone has to be their voice. There are thousands of people out there sick with all of the same conditions. It’s not coincidence,” said Russell.

Butler said she’s proof of the pain and just wants relief for herself, her family and her home.

“At the end of the day, everybody wants to survive, everyone wants to live, and if it’s something in the air they can change, it needs to be done,” said Butler.

This is a separate lawsuit from those alleging chloroprene causes cancer.

Russell said they will have another hearing in federal court later this month. He’s hopeful the judge will remand the case to state court.

A Denka spokesperson said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

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