Residents meet after EPA inspection of Laplace plant sparks outrage

Residents meet after EPA inspection of Laplace plant sparks outrage
Updated: Jun. 27, 2017 at 8:51 PM CDT
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RESERVE, LA (WVUE) - An EPA inspection has inflamed outrage over a manufacturing plant emitting a likely carcinogen into the air.

Residents want the Denka manufacturing plant to shut down or reduce production in order to keep school children from breathing the chemical.

The Laplace plant is blamed for putting residents at the highest risk of developing cancer in the country, and residents say feel like their concerns are going ignored. On Tuesday they gathered at a church in Reserve to get an update on the facility that a recent inspection says even puts its own employees at risk.

"They should be thrown out," said resident Joseph Dupas. "People have to live here, and what about the children in the schools? It is a living nightmare."

Denka produces the rubber material neoprene, which is used the make wetsuits and other items. During the manufacturing process, the plant releases chloroprene into the air, and the according to the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment Map, the chloroprene emissions from Denka cause those who live and work near the facility to be at the highest risk of developing cancer in the country.

"On the front page it talks to you about the history," said Wilma Subra with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

On Tuesday, Subra spoke to a group of St. John the Baptist residents. She pointed out a recent EPA inspection of Denka says not only residents but Denka employees were exposed to high amounts of chloroprene. EPA investigators recorded concentrated chloroprene inside the plant at 50 to 8,000 times more than OSHA standards.

"Clearly they show that the workers were being exposed over the acceptable standards, and DuPont slash Denka have known that the workers have been exposed for many, many, many decades," Subra said.

Last November, FOX spoke with Tulane toxicologist Luanne White about Denka's emissions. She disagreed with EPA's study on the risk of chloroprene exposure, but she did warn about the possible risks.

"As I look at it from its chemical structure, it's chemically similar to compounds that do have carcinogenic effects, so to me that would make me really look at it carefully just from its chemical structure," White said. "I think at schools they really need to watch it carefully because children are going to be much more sensitive than adults."

The EPA's health recommendation for the long-term exposure standard of chloroprene is .2. Monitors around Denka have recorded levels at or below that level. But last month, all of the monitoring stations recorded between 4.6 and 17.6 - well above that .2 recommendation.

In December, Denka agreed to reduce emissions by 85 percent. Back then Louisiana DEQ Secretary Chuck Brown told St. John elected officials that the emissions standard Denka needs to adhere to is not determined by the health recommendation but by how much the technologies will allow.

"I asked my EPA counterparts about this .2 number, and are we going to standby that? We didn't get a straight answer from them, but I do know that we have technology in place to help us establish a standard. That's why I'm going that route," Brown said.

Subra fears that approach puts residents at too much of a risk, especially at two nearby schools where chloroprene levels jump much higher than the .2 EPA health recommendation.

"They can brush it off as not appropriate, but it's based on all the data and that's the level we should be aiming for as we stand here in this community," .

Subra is urging residents to contact DEQ to make sure that Denka meets the deadlines it signed in a contract with the state.  She says the plant has already announced their reduction efforts are behind schedule.

Denka and its lawyers have not returned our request for comment.

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