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Lawsuits & Litigation

Department of Justice Files Lawsuit Against “Cancer Alley” Petrochemical Companies

— March 1, 2023

The lawsuit alleges that a Japan-based petrochemical company is polluting the air around a Louisiana parish with cancer-causing compounds.

The federal Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against two petrochemical companies associated with Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.”

According to The Guardian, the lawsuit alleges that emissions at the Pontchartrain Works Facility in Reserve, Louisiana, violate provisions of the Clean Air Act and “present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare.”

The complaint has already received support from local community leaders, who had long protested regional air pollution.

The Justice Department, which filed its lawsuit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, is asking a federal court to compel Denka Performance Elastomer LLC to “immediately take all necessary measures” to reduce emissions of chloroprene.

Chloroprene, notes The Guardian, is recognized by the E.P.A. as a probable human carcinogen.

The Pontchartrain facility, adds The Associated Press, is the only chemical manufacturer in the United States that emits airborne chloroprene compounds.

The E.P.A.’s monitoring of local emissions has consistently shown readings well in excess of the lifetime exposure limit of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter.

“In the aggregate, the thousands of people breathing this air are incurring a significantly higher cancer risk than would be typically allowed, and they are being exposed to a much greater cancer risk from Denka’s air pollution than the majority of United States residents face,” the lawsuit states.

Robert Taylor, a founder of the Concerned Citizens of St. John’s Parish, told The Guardian that Reserve residents are enthused by the federal government’s recent action.

Air pollution at sunrise; image by SD-Pictures, via Pixabay, CC0.
Air pollution at sunrise; image by SD-Pictures, via Pixabay, CC0.

“This will have a tremendous impact on our struggle here,” Taylor said. “Over the six years we have been fighting this fight, we haven’t had anything as great as this to happen in terms of getting concrete action on emissions.”

“The state government has totally ignored us,” Taylor added. “Marches on the capitol, rallying—they wouldn’t even give us an audience. And for the administration to come in and do this, it just validates our efforts.”

The lawsuit, writes The Guardian, is a follow-up to an earlier pledge.

After E.P.A. administrator Michael Regan visited Reserve in November of 2021, he promised “strong action” against the petrochemical companies responsible for local pollution.

“This complaint filed against Denka delivers on that promise,” Regan said in a statement. “The company has not moved far enough or fast enough to reduce emissions or ensure the safety of the surrounding community. This action is not the first step we have taken to reduce risks to the people living in St. John the Baptist Parish, and it will not be the last.”

Denka has maintained its lack of liability.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said that the E.P.A.’s classification of chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen is based on flawed and outdated science.

“DPE is in compliance with its air permits and applicable law. E.P.A> is taking an unprecedented step—deviating from its permitting and rulemaking authorities—to allege an ‘emergency’ based on outdated and erroneous science the agency released over 12 years ago,” a Denka spokesperson said in a statement.

The lawsuit names a DuPont subsidiary as a co-defendant, noting that DuPont owns the land surrounding the factory.

Since DuPont could be considered a landlord, the Justice Department alleges, it may need to authorize Denka to take the steps needed to reduce emissions.


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