RESERVE, LA (WVUE) - More eyes than ever are fixed on the Denka Elastomer Facility in Reserve and the potential cancer-causing chemical being pumped out of it.
"It infuriates people, and it certainly motivates them because all of them have experienced it. They felt their chest hurting if they do too much exercise when that stuff is in the air. They've felt their eyes burning. Their child wakes up at night can't breath and suffering," resident Bobby Taylor said.
Taylor started the Concerned Citizens of St. John group after the Environmental Protection Agency singled out Denka last year. The EPA blames Denka and its chloroprene emissions for putting residents around the operation at the highest risk of developing cancer in the nation.
Reserve residents say they have come across the deadly disease too often.
"In our area, just my street, I can name nine people in the past five years that have died of cancer. I've had five people in my family who have died in the past three or four years with cancer," resident Mary Hampton said.
But despite the warning, Denka is following all state and federal guidelines. The health recommendation set by the EPA is .2 micrograms of chloroprene for long-term exposure (for someone who lives or works near the plant).
But chloroprene has an industrial standard of 857 micrograms allowed at Denka per eight-hour shifts. The standard was set prior to the EPA classifying chloroprene as a likely carcinogen.
Denka refutes the EPA's study but has agreed to reduce emissions.
"We know that the community is concerned. We know that the EPA is concerned," Denka plant operator Jorge Lavastida said. "While there are areas that we differ with the conclusions and the study, we think that there is commonality, and we want to continue to have the right to operate in the area. So we are looking at some technologies that we can install."
Denka has agreed with the EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to invest $15-20 million to reduce emission by the end of 2017.
Chloroprene exposure has its links to much more than cancer.
For chronic exposure, the federal agencies say chloroprene has the potential to change blood cells, damage developing fetuses, cause spontaneous miscarriages and create reproductive issues in men.
Concerned Citizens of St. John plan to meet twice a month at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel to add pressure to Denka's agreement to lower chloroprene emissions.
The federal government has never conducted a long term study on chloroprene exposure and only recently placed air quality monitors around Denka.
Some of the levels recorded at schools are hundreds of times higher than the EPA's suggested health standard.