Air of Uncertainty: New air monitoring technology to be installed

Published: Jan. 8, 2020 at 10:23 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Concerned Citizens of St. John Parish have flown to Japan, staged marches across Baton Rouge and other protests against what they believe is killing them: the chloroprene emissions put out by the nearby Denka-Dupont rubber plant.

Resident, Bobby Taylor feels what progress and headway they've made hasn't been enough. The plant still emits chloroprene, considered a likely carcinogen above the EPA’s recommended 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. Taylor says he wants to see action, not studies.

“We’re the ones with the problem, that's suffering the most, what more do we need to fix the problem,” said Tayor.

Since May 2016, the EPA has been collecting samples at six air monitoring stations around the plant. According to the plant, and verified by the EPA mitigation technology at the Denka-Dupont reduced chloroprene emissions by 86 percent.

However, data still shows chloroprene spikes in the community, but scientists haven't been able to find a clear pattern as to why or when.

Now, the EPA will be updating the air monitoring units with new technology called SPods at those six stations.

“In this case we can see when there's a spike and look within the facility and see what was going on in the facility to release more than you normally do,” said Wilma Subra.

Subra, a technician with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network says SPods have been used in other parishes with success. If they're able to pinpoint when the chloroprene spikes happen, she says the plant should better be able to target when that spike happened, where, and how to fix it.

“This is going to give us an idea of what's going on every day, 24 hours a day… it’s like one of the first steps other than putting on the control technologies,” said Subra.

But Taylor’s frustration is evident.

“Why can’t the EPA come here and say, ‘This is the rule, there are human beings living here, look at this’,” said Taylor.

He wonders why leaders are resorting to more studies and technology that he says have been done in excess, and why not implement a fix.

“We’re talking about lets go study some more, you're going to let these people sit and stew in this,” said Taylor.

The SPods will be working by April of this year.

A spokesperson for the Denka-Dupont plant released the following statement regarding the SPods:

Denka Performance Elastomer continues to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air quality around its St. John The Baptist Parish facility and in the community. Monitoring data collected over the past three years shows that air quality remains well within state requirements. In addition, the results of several health studies conducted by the Louisiana Tumor Registry consistently show no adverse health impacts to the community.

DPE has met with regulators and community members many times since purchasing the facility in late 2015, and continues to meet regularly with a group of near neighbors and community leaders. In addition, DPE has voluntarily reduced the facility’s emissions by more than 85 percent at a cost of over $35 million since purchasing it, and monitoring data shows a reduction of nearly 80 percent of ambient concentrations since monitoring began in 2016. DPE employs more than 250 people at the facility, many of whom live in St. John the Baptist Parish, and the company will continue to voluntarily work to reduce its environmental footprint where possible. The health and safety of our community and neighbors are our top priorities.

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