EPA Says Regulating Air Pollution by State Agencies May Violate Civil Rights of Black Residents | Environment


State Departments of Environmental Quality and Health Could Violate Federal Civil Rights Laws and Regulations by Allowing Blacks to Suffer Disproportionate Air Pollution Impacts in Louisiana’s Industrial Corridor , including an increased risk of cancer, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

A 56-page “letter of concern” sent to the two agencies summarizes the EPA’s initial findings during an investigation into two civil rights complaints filed in April by environmental and community groups in the parishes of St. James and St. John the Baptist.

Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Michael Regan pledged earlier this year to investigate whether minority and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by pollution, including in the region. nicknamed “Cancer Alley”.

The complaints centered on efforts by state agencies to address emissions of carcinogenic chloroprene from Denka performance elastomers on reserve and to assess increased emissions of carcinogenic ethylene oxide by the proposed manufacturing plant of $9.4 billion from Formosa Plastics which would be located on the west bank of St. James Parish.

Neither Denka nor Formosa responded to a request for comment on the letter.

“Negative and disparate impact”

“The EPA’s initial investigation raises concerns that the departments’ methods … could have a negative and disparate impact on black residents who live and/or attend school near Denka, who live near the proposed location. for the Formosa facility, and those who live in the industrial corridor,” reads the letter, first reported by The Lens.

A state judge rejected the Formosa permits, issued by the DEQ, on environmental justice grounds. The DEQ and the company appealed this decision.

In a statement Thursday, the EPA said the two Louisiana departments had expressed their willingness to engage in an informal mediation process to resolve the complaints.

“It is important to note that the EPA has not completed its investigation of these complaints and has not made any definitive findings of fact or law,” an EPA spokesperson said.

The DEQ and LDH noted that the letter did not provide for any legal action and that the two are cooperating with the investigation.

“The Louisiana Department of Health is closely reviewing the detailed report and letter from the EPA. We take these concerns very seriously and are committed to health equity – which is why we are fully cooperating with the EPA’s investigation of Denka Performance Elastomer,” the LDH said in a statement.

The letter “was not a finding, but rather a step in the ongoing process,” said DEQ spokesman Gregory Langley. “LDEQ will continue to engage with the EPA to resolve any issues and is committed to protecting human health and the environment.”

Robert Taylor, director of Concerned Citizens of St. John, which has long protested the Denka plant, said the letter was just a first step in bringing polluters to heel.

“My community has been let down time and time again by all levels of government,” Taylor said. “As we wait for state and federal regulators to act, our neighbors are being diagnosed with cancer at alarming rates caused by toxic chemicals in the air we breathe. This is a real and serious health emergency. and we expect urgent action from the EPA…this has to stop.”

“The State of Louisiana not only protects black communities, but also prioritizes their destruction,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, one of the organizations that filed the complaints. “Our officials take trips around the world to promote Louisiana to some of the worst polluters on the planet, and it’s usually black communities they present as the target for construction. Formosa is the #1 example .”

The EPA letter outlined various concerns about the actions of the two state agencies. Around the Denka plant, including Fifth Ward Elementary School, he said residents and children were routinely exposed to levels of chloroprene that would produce a cancer risk well above the EPA’s acceptable level – an estimated 100 in 1 million risk of developing chloroprene-related cancers over a lifetime.

The EPA identified chloroprene as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2010. A 2014 EPA report found that the area around the Denka plant had the highest airborne cancer risk in the nation.

After this report was published, Denka installed equipment that significantly reduced its emissions. But the letter says residents continue to have unacceptable levels of cancer risk and that this disproportionately affects black residents.

“Acts and Inactions”

The letter described several “actions and inactions” by the health department that could have exacerbated this risk, including the lack of studies on the risk of exposure to chloroprene.

And he singled out DEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown for what the EPA said were inaccurate or misleading statements during public hearings.

“During the few public meetings held to discuss Denka’s chloroprene emissions that LDEQ attended, when residents raised concerns about Denka’s failure to meet the EPA’s recommended maximum annual average concentration of chloroprene , LDEQ officials called these concerns “alarmist,” the letter said.

In a meeting, Brown called the maximum level of chloroprene deemed safe by the EPA – 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter – “just something the EPA has targeted as a goal,” the letter says, adding that Brown ‘wanted the speaker ‘to come off this number.'”

The letter also criticized a June 2018 report released by the health department that concluded that moving children from Fifth Ward Elementary School to another location would not “significantly decrease” their risk. The report did not examine locations far enough from Denka to have significantly lower chloroprene concentrations.

And he pointed out that Louisiana School of Public Health reports conducted for the health department in 2021 and 2022, funded by the EPA, concluded that there was a “likelihood of chronic exposure to low doses of chloroprene at levels [from the Denka facility][whichmayhavepotentialhealthimpactsonthehealthofvulnerablepopulations”[cequipeutavoirdesimpactspotentielssurlasantédespopulationsvulnérables»UnrapportaégalementrévélédesniveauxinacceptablesderisquedecancerchezlesétudiantsducinquièmequartieretaégalementtrouvédesniveauxdétectablesdechloroprènemêmelorsqueDenkaauraitétéfermé[whichmayhavepotentialhealthimpactsonvulnerablepopulations”OnereportalsofoundunacceptablyhighlevelsofcancerriskamongFifthWardstudentsandalsofounddetectablelevelsofchloropreneevenwhenDenkawasreportedlyshutdown

The letter also focused on a review of pollution data that indicates the highest cancer risks from air toxics “are almost exclusively in the industrial corridor”, which also has a high percentage of black population. The letter said 14 census tracts, all located in industrial parishes, had high cancer risks from air toxics.

Focusing on the Formosa project in St. James, the letter noted that existing risk levels in the parish and immediate area of ​​the proposed facility are currently below the EPA’s risk threshold. But the letter asked if the DEQ review had correctly identified whether the adjacent black neighborhood would see an increase in risk.

“The EPA does not indicate in this letter that the projected (ethylene oxide) emissions from Formosa are per se harmful,” the letter states. “Given, however, the underlying environmental conditions and the demographic characteristics of those most potentially affected in the Industrial Corridor as a whole, and St. James in particular, the failure of LDEQ to conduct a proper analysis of the impacts , from a civil rights perspective, is concerning.”


Comments are closed.