Louisiana Plant Asks Regulators to Allow Higher Emissions

LaPLACE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana chemical plant that agreed to lower its emissions of a potentially harmful toxin now wants to raise them based on research indicating the compound is safe at much higher levels than what federal environmental officials previously said.

The LaPlace facility in St. John the Baptist Parish is owned by Denka Performance Elastomer and produces the compound chloroprene, an ingredient in some synthetic rubber products, according to the company’s website.

The Environmental Protection Agency labeled the substance a likely carcinogen, meaning it could be harmful to public health and pose a risk of cancer with inhalation, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported.

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But Denka is pointing to a new study, which it sponsored, that claims the level of chloroprene emissions considered safe should be 130 times higher than what the EPA currently allows, the newspaper said.

The study, published in January by a scientific journal, suggests the risk of developing lung cancer after inhaling the toxin is lower than what the EPA has cited.

The peer-reviewed study is being evaluated by the EPA in a process that could take up to nine months, the newspaper said. If the results are found acceptable, the agency could choose to change its guidance.

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Brad Reisfeld, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Colorado State University, told the newspaper that changing the acceptable level of a chemical can be concerning. But he added that “such adjustments can happen” as studies increase and “the science of risk assessment improves.”

A 2015 National Air Toxics Assessment by the EPA indicated residents living near the LaPlace plant were among populations facing the highest risks of cancer due to the chloroprene emissions. Louisiana’s health department is leading a study to see how many people living nearby have been diagnosed with cancer.

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