EPA Takes Action Against Denka for Air Pollution
On March 20, 2023, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), on behalf of EPA, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), asking the federal district court for the eastern district of Louisiana to order Denka Performance Elastomer LLC (“Denka”) to immediately reduce chloroprene emissions from its neoprene manufacturing facility in LaPlace, Louisiana. The motion follows DOJ’s February complaint arguing that plant operations present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare due to cancer risks posed by Denka’s chloroprene emissions.
The Denka facility is currently the only facility in the country producing neoprene, a flexible, synthetic rubber used to manufacture a variety of products, including wetsuits, automotive belts and hoses, and orthopedic braces. Chloroprene is a liquid raw material used to produce neoprene. It is emitted into the air from various production processes at the facility.
In 2010, EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) found that chloroprene is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” In a separate civil proceeding, Denka has challenged the process by which the Environmental Protection Agency considered the scientific information supporting its understanding of the human health risks posed by chloroprene.
According to the complaint, air monitoring conducted by both the EPA and Denka over the past several years consistently shows chloroprene concentrations in the air near Denka’s LaPlace facility that are as high as 14 times the recommended levels. In the complaint, DOJ expressed particular concern for students attending the 5th Ward Elementary School, located approximately 450 feet from Denka’s facility.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta commented on the complaint stating, “We allege that Denka’s emissions have led to unsafe concentrations of carcinogenic chloroprene near homes and schools in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. The Justice Department’s environmental justice efforts require ensuring that every community, no matter its demographics, can breathe clean air and drink clean water. Our suit aims to stop Denka’s dangerous pollution.”