Air of Uncertainty: Government shutdown impacts EPA air monitoring around Denka plant

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Sitting around the Denka plant in Laplace are six canisters that monitor chloroprene levels in the air, but levels are not taken daily. The EPA samples chloroprene in the air once every three days while Denka samples once every six days. However with the government shutdown, the EPA is not measuring any levels.

In 2015, scientists found that the Denka rubber plant had been emitting chloroprene into the air -- the same chemical the EPA has labeled a “likely carcinogen." With the government shutdown, and EPA not taking chloroprene air samples, that’s five days’ worth of missing information.

Wilma Subra, a technician with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network said without this information, ithe citizens living in the area are at a disadvantage, and potentially even more risk from the Denka plant.

“We really need data on an ongoing basis so we can see what’s happening in the community, and how sick it’s making the community," Surba said. “If they decide they need to clean out some kind of vessel or do a ‘dirty job’ they wouldn’t do it on a day they were monitoring.”

The EPA recommends chloroprene emission levels not rise above 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. Subra said while chloroprene levels have trended downwards in the past year, there have been days where the levels are very high. Without constant monitoring, she fears there will be more “high-level” events.

“A week is too long [to go without data], especially when we’re seeing the high level in October and the high levels in November. Then what are we missing? We never know what we’re missing if we don’t have the data,” Subra said.

Laplace resident Bobby Taylor continues to fight against the plant and the chloroprene emissions. He said multiple friends and family members have suffered from various illnesses and cancer because of the plant, including himself.

“They’re all suffering someone dying of cancer is not a nice sight,” Taylor said.

And despite watching those around him in pain, he said what angers him most is the inaction of people in power.

“It is inhumane. There’s nothing humane about what’s taken place while these fat cats walk around, driving new cars, living in expensive subdivision, and poisoning the common folk over here, and its gotten to the point I’m fed up with it," Taylor said, "Something has to be done,” Taylor said.

With the EPA is not, Denka is continuing with its monitoring schedule and the last report was published mid-December. Just before the shutdown, the last set of data the EPA posted online was through Nov. 12th. But Subra fears every week that passes without all the information, the people of St. John are put at risk.

“They deserve to have a constant stream of data available to them so they know how to conduct their lives living right up to the fence line at this facility,” Subra said.

FOX 8 contacted Denka regarding whether or not they will take more air monitoring samples until the shutdown has lifted, but did not hear back Tuesday (Jan. 2).

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