Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filed a motion for the preliminary injunction of Denka Performance Elastomer, requesting that the court order the company to significantly reduce chloroprene emissions through pollution controls. The preliminary injunction is filed under the Clean Air act section 303 and is currently pending in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Denka’s facility is located in St. John the Baptist Parish, LA.
The lawsuit posits that the company facility — specifically its manufacturing operations — remains an imminent and substantial danger to the surrounding communities due to the level of chloroprene emissions, an pollutant that EPA has determined to be a likely carcinogen.
“Today’s motion asks the court to require Denka to take strong action to protect neighboring communities from the urgent dangers caused by its harmful emissions,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This action shows our determination to address environmental justice concerns of overburdened communities and to protect children living and studying today near this facility.”
Chloroprene is a liquid raw material used to produce neoprene, a flexible, synthetic rubber used in many industries. In medtech, neoprene is used in orthopedic braces and other medical equipment like gloves. When manufactured, chloroprene is emitted into the air, and can spread from the facility to neighboring communities.
According to the original US complaint, which was filed on Feb. 28, air monitoring conducted by the EPA and Denka over the past several years has consistently shown long-term chloroprene concentrations in the air near its facility as high as 14 times the levels recommended for a 70-year lifetime of exposure. Located 450 feet from Denka’s facility is the 5th Ward Elementary school, housing more than 300 children. Approximately 1200 children who attend East St. John High School, located roughly a mile-and-a-half north of Denka, are also exposed. Additionally, approximately 20% of the total population living with two-and-a-half miles of the facility are children under the age of 18, and about 800 to 1000 children are under the age of five. Children are particularly vulnerable to carcinogens like chloroprene because they change DNA and harm cells, meaning they are mutagenic.
The motion for preliminary injunction asks the court to require the company to take strong action to reduce exposure to chloroprene in the area. The original complaint also names DuPont Specialty Products — the owner of the land beneath the facility and Denka’s landlord — reasoning that DuPont is a necessary party to ensure there are no delays in any actions Denka is ordered to do to reduce emissions as a result of the rights DuPont holds under its lease agreement with the company.
“All communities deserve to breathe fresh, clean air; it is one of EPA’s top priorities as we work to protect human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This is another action that sends a clear message that the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to the health and safety of St. John the Baptist Parish, and I will continue to pledge that EPA will use all legal remedies available to reduce harmful air pollution in this community.”