Injunction Filed Against Elastomer Manufacturer
On Monday (March 20), the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion for preliminary injunction requiring LaPlace, Louisiana-based Denka Performance Elastomer, LLC to significantly reduce chloroprene emissions immediately.
The action arrives after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s agreement at the end of last year, citing Denka for failing to make an appropriate hazardous waste determination for “Poly Kettle Strainer Waste.” The waste, known as chloroprene waste, is generated from the manufacturing of neoprene, which is used to create products such as wetsuits, gaskets, hoses and adhesives.
It also follows the United States’ complaint filed on Feb. 28, alleging an imminent and substantial endangerment to the communities surrounding the facility as a result of Denka’s manufacturing operations.
According to reports from an onsite inspection the EPA had conducted at Denka’s facility in April and May of 2022, officials discovered that the company was transferring “Poly Kettle Strainer Waste” to an outside, open-air brine pit. There, EPA inspectors documented elevated chloroprene concentrations in the air in the vicinity of the brine pit.
Chloroprene has been classified by the EPA as a likely carcinogen.
At the end of December, the EPA announced that it had entered a consent agreement and issued Denka a final order to address certain waste management practices at the company’s facility.
To better prevent any potential negative health and safety effects, the EPA instructed Denka to stop placing this waste stream in its open-air brine pit and instead meet hazardous waste regulatory requirements for both storage and ultimate disposal of the waste.
EPA asks federal judge to force Denka to immediately reduce emissions https://t.co/M7BVvKSGbJ— NOLA.com (@NOLAnews) March 21, 2023
The waste shall be managed as hazardous until a more robust sampling and hazardous waste determination effort can be completed by the company through a waste determination plan, according to the EPA.
As part of the consent agreement, the company has agreed to continue testing additional emissions reduction measures to reduce emissions from the management of this waste. However, any projects or modifications will be subject to EPA review and approval.
If successful, the emissions reduction projects alone have the potential to eliminate approximately two tons of chloroprene emissions per year from poly kettle strainer clean-out, according to Denka’s reported Emissions Inventory.
In addition, Denka has been instructed to consider EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool when choosing disposal facilities and must consider using low-emission vehicles when transporting waste for disposal. Moving forward, Denka must also provide protective equipment to employees handling the “Poly Kettle Strainer Waste.”
The consent agreement went into effect on Jan. 31. The full agreement can be read here.
Filed on behalf of the EPA, the motion for preliminary injunction under the Clean Air Act (CAA) requests that the court order Denka to require significant pollution controls to reduce chloroprene emissions. The Clean Air Act section 303 imminent and substantial endangerment lawsuit is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
“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.”
“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.”
According to a assessment conducted by the EPA, approximately 20% of the total population living within two-and-a-half miles of Denka are children under the age of 18, and between 800 and 1,000 are children under the age of five. Children under the age of 16 are particularly vulnerable to mutagenic carcinogens like chloroprene.
Denka’s chloroprene’s emissions reportedly reach more than 300 young children who attend the 5th Ward Elementary School, located within approximately 450 feet of Denka’s facility. Additionally, 1,200 children who attend East St. John High School, located about a mile-and-a-half north of Denka, are also exposed to the facility’s chloroprene emissions.
“These emissions are exposing infants, children and adults in nearby communities, such as LaPlace, Reserve and Edgard, Louisiana, to some of the country’s highest cancer risks from industrial air pollution,” Monday’s filing by the DOJ said.
“Given their magnitude and the rate at which they are accumulating, these cancer risks constitute an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health and welfare of parish residents.”
According to reports, Denka called the EPA's action “unlawful” and said that monitoring at the plant's fenceline showed emissions at “historic lows.” Additionally, Denka claims that the science behind chloroprene’s designation as a likely carcinogen is badly flawed and outdated.
The filing reportedly requires Denka to “enclose several known chloroprene sources so that their now-diffuse, or simply uncontrolled, emissions can be captured and then routed to effective air pollution control equipment,” as well as address waste-handling and maintenance practices.