Air of Uncertainty: Families of 20 children file wrongful death, negligence lawsuit

Updated: Dec. 18, 2018 at 9:02 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The families of 20 children and young adults say the Denka-DuPont plant in Laplace has caused them serious illness, birth defects and cancer. It’s part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed recently in district court against the plant and state departments.

Their stories vary. The lawsuit says some children were exposed to chloroprene in the womb; others while attending school, living, or working close to the plant.

But in a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit, the families of 20 children and young adults say the plant was the cause of serious birth defects, diseases, cancer and death. In 2015, the Denka plant was found to emit chloroprene, a byproduct of neoprene rubber, into the air.

The EPA has labeled chloroprene as a “likely carcinogen." The lawsuit names not only the Denka plant, formerly owned by DuPont, but other agencies and people they claim are responsible, including: The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, The Louisiana Department of Health and other individually named leaders and plant managers.

The lawsuit says four of the 20 children died from their illness; others have suffered physically, emotionally and mentally.

For years, Bobby Taylor has been fighting and protesting the plant and government agencies to do something about the chloroprene emissions. But when they first found out about the dangerous, invisible compound, he says his first concern were the children.

“We knew we needed to take some action right away. One of the school members remarked that, he said, ‘If this is real, what you all are telling us now, we have to stop DuPont right now if that’s what will stop poisoning kids at this level,’” said Taylor.

One of the closest locations to the plant is Fifth Ward elementary. Children continue to attend the school just as air-monitoring results continue to show chloroprene levels in the air. And Taylor says it makes him angry to think of how those children are being put at risk.

“We are here two and a half years after we discovered these children being poisoned, and that’s just one blatant example. We know there’s nowhere in St. John where there is a safe level of chloroprene. They are poisoning the entire parish,” said Taylor.

Taylor himself is not one of the families alleging wrongful death and negligence, though he is a part of other lawsuits. He says they’ve always been fearful of how chloroprene could affect the neighborhood children, and this lawsuit makes those fears more realistic. As a grandparent and great-grandparent now, Taylor says it’s more important to fight for clean air for the next generation.

“Most of us are great-grandparents and these little women say no not my great-grandbaby, and they are dedicated. They stand up in the face of DuPont,” said Taylor.

The Denka plant and Department of Health said they could not comment on the lawsuit, as it is pending litigation. The School Board and Department of Environmental Quality have not responded to a request for comment.

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