EPA recommends closing St. John’s Elementary School due to toxic exposure


ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, Louisiana (WVUE) – The Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging the state of Louisiana to close an elementary school on the reservation because of toxic exposure it calls environmental discrimination.

The EPA said it has evidence that black residents living near the Denka plant in LaPlace face an increased risk of cancer from a nearby chemical plant and that state officials let pollution from seemed to stay elevated and minimized its threat.

Denka is the nation’s only emitter of chloroprene, a toxic volatile liquid byproduct of the creation of synthetic rubber neoprene, and has been listed by the EPA as a probable carcinogen.

The agency’s 56-page letter to Louisiana officials describes early findings of racial discrimination by two Louisiana departments involving the entire corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, a plant that the EPA says , emits large amounts of a carcinogenic chemical and a plastic complex project.

He said the EPA has “significant evidence to suggest that the actions or inaction of the departments” have hurt and hurt black residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, St. James Parish, and “Lane cancer” of 85 miles (137 kilometers). corridor officially called the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor.

Robert Taylor, director of Concerned Citizens of St. John, which asked the EPA to investigate the condition, said his community has been let down “time and time again by all levels of government.”

FILE – EPA Administrator Michael Regan, left, arrives at Fifth Ward Elementary School, which is near the Denka plant, with Robert Taylor, second left, founder of Concerned Citizens of St. John’s Parish, and band member Lydia Gerard, third from left, in Reserve, Louisiana, on Nov. 16, 2021. On Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, Regan announced the creation of a new office at the EPA focused on environmental justice . “We embed environmental justice and civil rights into EPA’s DNA,” Regan said. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)(Gerald Herbert | AP)

“My brother died of cancer. We all have some sort of respiratory problem,” said Mary Hampton, whose family built homes near Denka after their father bought several properties 40 years ago. “We have all built here. [My father] died of cancer. He thought he left us a legacy, but he left us a death sentence.

The EPA letter states that neighborhoods near Denka have been routinely exposed to concentrations of chloroprene that put them at risk of developing chloroprene-related cancers over a 70-year lifespan.

“For decades, it appears that LDEQ’s implementation of its air permit program has continually exposed residents who live near the Denka facility and children who attend the Fifth Ward Elementary School in St. John the Baptist Parish to annual average concentrations of chloroprene in ambient air at levels associated with increased lifetime cancer risk,” said Lilian Dorka, Deputy Assistant Administrator for External Civil Rights at the EPA, in the letter addressed to LDEQ and LDH.

“My husband Walter was a founding member of Concerned Citizens of St John. He died in 2018 of kidney cancer,” Lydia Gerard said.

The EPA letter says the Louisiana Department of Health failed to provide “majority black residents living near the Denka facility and school children attending the 5th Elementary Ward with critical risk information.” of cancer associated with chloroprene levels in these areas”.

The letter also asks the DEQ to do more monitoring and determine areas with lower chloroprene concentrations to temporarily house the 5th Ward Elementary School.

“I have a great-grandchild here and I fear for him every day,” Hampton said.

Jim Harris, a spokesman for Denka, dismissed any suggestion that the herb contributed to an increased risk of cancer and said the EPA’s recommended threshold for chloroprene is based on a “faulty exposure model. and obsolete”. In its response, Denka says the company “has invested millions of dollars in monitoring equipment since it purchased the facility in 2015 and has significantly reduced emissions.”

One of these monitors sits on the grounds of the 5th Elementary Hall.

Residents who claim they and their family members have become ill want the state to do more to establish minimum safety level standards for chloroprene.

“It’s come down drastically, but it’s still above what’s recommended,” Gerard said.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said after an initial review that it “does not share most concerns about the letter and civil rights,” but remains “committed to working with the EPA”.

DEQ says it did not have the opportunity to discuss the EPA’s initial findings or recommendations with the EPA or to review a draft of the letter before its release. The state says its licensing rules fully comply with civil rights law.

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