EPA reaches tandem deals over ‘Cancer Alley’ pollution

Source: By Sean Reilly, E&E News • Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2022

LaPlace is the largest community in Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Parish, where industrial emissions put residents at a higher risk of cancer.

LaPlace is the largest community in Louisiana’s St. John the Baptist Parish, where industrial emissions put residents at a higher risk of cancer. ScienceQuiz/Wikimedia Commons

EPA has reached a tentative deal with environmental groups in a lawsuit brought over toxic pollution in the swath of Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley.”

Under a proposed consent decree that still needs a federal judge’s approval, the agency would undertake overdue reviews of its hazardous air pollutant standards for plants that make a variety of products used in plastics and rubber manufacturing. A proposed rule incorporating any changes would come next March followed by a final version in March 2024.

Concerned Citizens of St. John, a Louisiana advocacy group, and two other environmental organizations filed the suit last fall (E&E News PM, Nov. 22, 2021). The group is based in St. John the Baptist Parish, which lies in the heavily industrialized corridor along the
Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that carries the “Cancer Alley” label. Of particular concern is a Denka Performance Elastomer plant that emits chloroprene, which is used in making auto parts and deemed a likely carcinogen by EPA.

As of September, chloroprene air concentrations in the parish remained up to almost 12,000 times the ambient concentration cancer risk value, according to EPA monitoring data cited in the suit.

A copy of the proposed settlement was provided by Earthjustice, which represents the challengers. EPA plans to formally release it tomorrow at the start of a routine 30-day public comment period.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was consolidated with a 2020 suit brought by the Environmental Integrity Project and other groups alleging that EPA was even more tardy in reassessing industrial flaring requirements for petrochemical plants and other facilities that date as far back as the Reagan administration (Energywire,Oct. 30, 2020).

Flares are used to burn and destroy organic pollutants in waste gases, including both air toxics and smog-forming compounds, according to the suit. EPA has also reached a related settlement in that case, according to an agency notice.

The terms of that proposed deal, also made available by Earthjustice, would apply to general control device requirements for flares and set a series of rolling deadlines ending in 2026 for EPA to review and, if needed, strengthen the relevant regulations for marine tank vessel loading operations and other sources.