The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating if two state agencies discriminated towards Black residents during permitting decisions for two chemical factories and a grain terminal at St. John and St. James Parishes.
The probe focuses upon actions taken by the state Department of Environmental Quality and Health. DEQ reviewed permits for the Denka Performance Elastomers and Formosa Plastics Sunshine plants in the past 2 years. Greenfield ExportsAccording to letters EPA sent out to environmental groups announcing its investigation, the grain terminal was being investigated. These letters come five months after Michael Regan, EPA Administrator, promised a crackdown against permitting decisions along Louisiana’s chemical corridor.
Environmental groups have long called the area Cancer Alley because of federal studies that show higher levels of airborne pollutants and more cases of cancer in this region than anywhere else in the state.
Three states were targeted in the name and honor of environmental justice
The investigations, which will also examine permitting decisions for several chemical plants, are in response environmental groups’ complaints about:
- Continued release to the atmosphere of carcinogenic chloroprene (Denka plant)
- Emissions from other chemical plants around the Denka facility in St. John of cancer-causing ethylene dioxide.
- The potential release of the smallest amount of particulate matter, PM2.5, at the proposed $400,000,000 Greenfields grain terminal, Wallace.
- Formosa Plastics’ proposed Sunshine facility in St. James worth $9.4 billion is likely to release particulate matter and volatile carbon monoxide. It is owned by its FG LA LLC affiliate.
A spokesperson for DEQ said that the agency handled the chemical plant and grain facility permits on Thursday.
Gregory Langley, DEQ Press Secretary, stated that “we believe LDEQ’s permit process, as prescribed by state law is impartial and impartial.” “All issues are dealt with fair and equitable by LDEQ. EPA will be working with LDEQ to resolve this matter.
Steven Russo (general counsel for the Louisiana Department of Health) stated that “we take these concerns very seriously.” “We have received the entire complaint from EPA and we are reviewing it carefully.”
Denka however, dismissed the investigations in an unsigned statement.
Jim Harris, a spokesperson for the company said that there are no elevated cancer rates in St. John the Baptist Parish when compared to the state’s average. He cited Louisiana Tumor Registry results, which he said support that assertion.
Harris said that the Denka complaint claims that local, state, and federal officials have turned their blind eyes to the health effects in the area. However, these agencies have been studying it for years before these groups became involved – and have chosen to look at real science instead of sensational pseudo-studies.” Harris concluded.
Critics claim that permits were granted in an unfair manner
Earthjustice, Lawyers’ Commitment for Civil Rights Under the Law and Sierra Club are the organizations that filed the complaints to EPA. They are challenging the Formosa Plastics facility and Denka.
Keep up-to-date with the latest news about Louisiana’s coast, and the environment. Register today.
In the meantime, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic represents Stop the Wallace Grain Terminal Inclusive Louisiana and RISE St. James in their complaint regarding the granting of the grain terminal.
The groups claim that the state’s environment quality and health departments often discriminate against residents. As a result, residents of predominantly Black communities are subject to high levels air pollution.
Several others also accuse the agencies for failing to renew, review or strengthen the requirements of the air permits issued at the facilities. They allege that the two departments fail provide proper notice and comment options for permits and fail to fulfill federal grants that EPA provided to the state to assess high cancer risk parishes.
The Denka-related complaint also accused the health department of failing to provide information to predominantly Black St. John residents about health threats posed air pollutants from Denka, including the risk for students at the Fifth Ward Elementary school.
A 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment (EPA) found that the lifetime cancer risk from both ethylene oxide and chloroprene was at the rate at which 2,000 individuals were exposed to each other at the census tract level close to the Denka plant. This is the highest estimate in the United States.
Denka, in LaPlace in the U.S., is the sole manufacturer of chloroprene. Ethylene oxide is being produced at the Evonik Corp. facility, Reserve, and the Union Carbide Corp Taft/Star plants in St. Charles Parish, as well as other locations in the state.
Denka’s chloroprene emission have decreased dramatically since the company installed new equipment in 2018. However, during the past year, several monitoring sites found that the emission levels were higher than the EPA cancer risk level (0.2 micrograms per cubic meter) have monitored the situation.
The company is currently operating under a voluntary compliance agreement with DEQ for 2017. However, the agreement didn’t reduce its official emission limits. This was a matter of contention with environmental groups. Denka had previously asked EPA for reconsideration of its listing of chloropreneas a probable human carcinogen. This was based upon a peer-reviewed study conducted by Denka and concluding that the chemical caused fewer cases than EPA.
Probe will examine racial discrimination
Lillian Dorka, EPA civil rights compliance officer director, stated that the complaints against the agencies were subject to a preliminary review as required by federal law before the agency decided to pursue investigations.
DEQ will be investigated to see if it administers its air-pollution control program in a manner that would lead to racial disparities. This is contrary both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 64 and EPA’s own regulations. The state’s handling Denka permits will also be the focus of the probe.
The investigation into the health department will also include a review of whether it discriminates against Black residents of the parish by failing to provide them, other state agencies, and other communities with information about health risks from Denka and other nearby sources.
Dorka clarified that the agency has not yet determined fault by the decision to initiate investigations.
Officials from Greenfield Exports and Formosa Plastics did not immediately respond when asked for comments about the EPA investigations.