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Neoprene maker appeals new EPA air rule

Denka claims the agency is unfairly targeting its facility’s chloroprene emissions

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
May 30, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 17


Aerial photo of a school and neighborhood near a chemical plant.
Credit: Associated Press
The Fifth Ward Elementary School and surrounding neighborhoods (front) are about 0.8 km from the Denka Performance Elastomer facility in LaPlace, Louisiana.

The neoprene maker Denka Performance Elastomer filed a motion for an emergency stay on May 28, saying the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent update to the Clean Air Act unfairly singles out its facility.

The air rule update, signed on April 9, imposes new limits on toxic air emissions from chemical plants and institutes new air monitoring provisions. It gives most companies 2 years to comply but only 90 days for firms that use chloroprene at neoprene facilities. Denka is the only US firm that fits the latter description.

In the court filing, Denka says the EPA rule is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law.” In response to the final rule, Denka sought an administrative stay from the EPA on April 17. The EPA denied the stay on April 30 but said it would consider extending the 90-day compliance period if Denka presented the specific actions it would take to reduce chloroprene emissions.

Denka says the EPA’s treatment of the company is unlawful, as the agency has not imposed the same requirements on other firms. In addition, Denka claims that some facilities have higher estimated risks than Denka’s, but they have 2 years to comply.

Denka and the EPA have a fraught relationship. The agency filed a complaint against the firm in February 2023, saying it was in violation of the Clean Air Act because of chloroprene emissions at its facility in LaPlace, Louisiana. A year later, the EPA requested that the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana postpone the trial, which had been scheduled to start March 11, until after the EPA finalized the new emission rule.

The Denka facility makes neoprene, a synthetic rubber used to make wet suits, gaskets, medical gloves, and a plethora of other products. Workers polymerize chloroprene to make the synthetic rubber, releasing chloroprene into the air during the process.

Denka’s facility is in the area of Louisiana nicknamed Cancer Alley because of the local population’s elevated risk of getting cancer in their lifetimes. For people in the US, the lifetime average risk of getting cancer is about 45 in 1 million, according to Statista. Data from the EPA’s Air Toxics Screening Assessment Mapping Tool says that the risk of getting cancer from chloroprene exposure in the area around the Denka plant is 300 in 1 million, based on 2020-level emissions.

Environmental activists in Louisiana filed civil rights complaints with the EPA in 2022 saying that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality allowed more air pollution in areas with high Black populations. The complaints named the Denka plant specifically. The EPA filed its 2023 lawsuit against Denka as a result of the civil rights complaints.

Denka’s stay filing asks that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decide on a ruling by June 28.


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