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US sues chemical company over cancer risk to minority area



17 March 2023

Communities of color face a disproportionate risk of exposure to pollution and related health conditions. This can happen through policies and practices that place industrial facilities in or near residential areas where a majority of people of color reside. An EPA Toxics Release Inventory shows that minority groups make up 56% of those living near toxic sites such as refineries, landfills and chemical plants. Living near these sites can have negative effects including chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. 

The Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, commonly known as Cancer Alley, is an 85 mile stretch from New Orleans to Baton Rouge that serves as an industrial hub with more than 100 oil refineries, plastics plants and chemical facilities. This area contains several hot spots where cancer risks are far above levels deemed acceptable by the EPA. Cancer Alley is home to predominantly African American residents who are subjected to higher cancer risks, respiratory diseases and other health problems.

On behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Justice Department is suing Louisiana chemical maker, Denka Performance Elastomer LLC, alleging that it presents an unacceptable cancer risk to the nearby majority-Black community and demanding cuts in toxic emissions. Denka makes synthetic rubber which emits the carcinogen chloroprene and other chemicals in high concentrations. 

Air monitoring consistently shows long-term chloroprene concentrations in the air near Denka’s LaPlace plant as high as 15 times the levels recommended for a 70-year exposure to the chemical. The plant is exposing thousands of people to lifetime cancer risks “multiples of times higher than what is typically considered acceptable.”

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said every community, no matter its demographics, should be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water. “Our suit aims to stop Denka’s dangerous pollution,” she said in a statement.

In 2022, the EPA said it had evidence that Black residents face an increased cancer risk from the Denka plant and that state officials allowed the pollution to remain too high. According to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, “The company has not moved far enough or fast enough to reduce emissions or ensure the safety of the surrounding community.” Local activists have long targeted the plant, arguing that nearby air monitoring demonstrates the plant is a danger to the nearby community.


Learn more in the Associated Press by Michael Phillis and Matthew Daly


National Minority Quality Forum is a research and educational organization dedicated to ensuring that high-risk racial and ethnic populations and communities receive optimal health care. This nonprofit, nonpartisan organization integrates data and expertise in support of initiatives to eliminate health disparities.

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