Cancer has decimated our community.’ EPA’s Regan vows to help hard-hit areas, but residents have doubts
Nov 29, 2021
By Darryl Fears - Washington Post
Beverly Wright, the executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in east New Orleans, who also sits on the panel and toured with Regan, said she would give the administration an “I,” for incomplete.
“It could go anywhere from there, an A, a C, D or F,” Wright said. Regan made a strong impression, she said, but “we’ll have to see.”
Wright’s center was the administrator’s first stop in Louisiana. He met with about a dozen community representatives who spoke with him privately before they boarded a small tour bus for the 65-mile ride to St. John the Baptist Parish.
There, in Cancer Alley — which winds for 85 miles along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — he stopped at Fifth Ward Elementary School, where hundreds of mostly Black students aged 10 and under attend classes and romp on a playground near the Denka Performance Elastomer plant once owned by DuPont.
The plant emits a hazardous pollutant called chloroprene, which the EPA identifies “a likely human carcinogen” that can cause rapid heartbeats, gastrointestinal disorders, dermatitis, temporary hair loss and corneal damage.
The census tract containing the school has an overall cancer rate that is 25 percent higher than the state average, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which filed a class-action lawsuit against the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board on behalf of its Black students.
After the EPA determined in 2016 that anything above 0.2 micrograms of chloroprene per cubic meter was dangerous, Denka agreed to reduce emissions by 85 percent despite disagreeing with the finding.
The company succeeded, according to a statement released in March. Denka said it also “developed a voluntary emission reduction program,” coordinated with the state, which was completed in 2017 “at a final cost of over $35 million.”
Concerned Citizens of St. John head Robert Taylor, who sat beside Regan during the tour there, said the exposure of schoolchildren “infuriated and frightened” him. Read more