Louisiana’s heavily polluted community asks the EPA to intervene

Two local advocacy groups in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, submitted a civil rights statement complaint to the US EPA on Thursday, accusing two state agencies of failing to protect residents of the low-income, predominantly black jurisdiction from the toxic air.

“We are calling on the EPA to step in to protect our civil rights.”

According to the complaint filed by Earthjustice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of Concerned Citizens of St. John (CCSJ) and the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH ) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits entities receiving federal financial assistance from engaging in activities that discriminate against individuals based on race, color, or national origin .

The LDEQ and LDH violated that ban, the complaint says, because their regulatory failures subjected residents of St. Jean-Baptiste Parish, a predominantly black parish, to disproportionate air pollution and related harm. .

“Environmental injustice in St. John the Baptist Parish has created a public health emergency,” said Earthjustice attorney Deena Tumeh. noted in a report. “This predominantly black community suffers from disproportionate exposure to toxic air pollution and, therefore, the highest cancer risk in the nation. The EPA must protect the civil rights of black residents of St. John’s and ensure that that federal funds are not used to discriminate on the basis of race.”

Mary Hampton of CCJS noted that “we have tried to engage with state agencies and local authorities to share our concerns about the continued exposure of our communities to toxic air pollution and the extraordinarily high rates of cancer we are experiencing. But we were fired many times”.

“It is unacceptable that we have been ignored for so long,” Hampton said, “and so we now call on the EPA to step in to protect our civil rights, including having equal protection from environmental harm, and to make sure our right to breathe clean air is finally fulfilled.”

Located in the heart of cancer alley—an 85-mile corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that has long been dominated by the petrochemical industry—St. St. John the Baptist Parish is home to many factories that spit ethylene oxide, as well as the Denka Performance Elastomer neoprene production plant, a potent source of chloroprene.

EPA Inspector General call for stricter limits on chloroprene and ethylene oxide emissions in May after the CCJs submitted a petition to the federal agency for emergency measures and rulemaking under the Clean Air Act.

But Denka, a Tokyo-based company that bought US chemical giant DuPont’s neoprene manufacturing complex in 2015 – “states that the EPA should reconsider its listing of chloroprene as a probable human carcinogen based on a company-sponsored study which concluded that the product chemical was far less carcinogenic than the EPA found,” Nola.com reported Last year.

Also in May, the CCJS continued its fight against environmental injustice abroad by filing a emergency request for precautionary measures to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in an effort to protect St. John residents from further harm.

The new civil rights complaint says LDEQ failed to: 1) review Denka’s license renewal applications and determine whether to renew or strengthen those licenses; 2) conduct the public notice and comment process required by Louisiana and federal law for license renewal applications; and 3) controlling hazardous air pollution from Denka and other sources, as necessary, to protect St. John’s residents from disproportionate adverse effects.

LDH, on the other hand, allegedly failed to: 1) provide the public with necessary information about health threats from air pollution from Denka and nearby sources; and 2) make necessary recommendations to all relevant government agencies and communities on ways to reduce and prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals from these sources.

The complaint adds that the two agencies failed to meet the terms of an EPA grant awarded to determine whether emissions of hazardous air pollutants from Denka caused higher cases of cancer in St. John the Baptist Parish. .

EPA Administrator Michael Regan recently visited the parish on his “Journey to Justice” last fall.

Dorian Spence, director of the Special Litigation and Advocacy Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, noted Thursday, “it is high time for the EPA to intervene to protect the residents of the parish of Saint-Jean-Baptiste from environmental racism”.

“The Louisiana Department of Health and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have abandoned their duty to protect this predominantly black community,” Spence added. “EPA’s intervention is essential to protect the health and well-being of St. John’s residents.”

Jane Williams, president of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team, echoed that message.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency must intervene and protect the residents of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish”, noted Williams. “Louisiana has failed to protect gated communities, including St. John residents, from the harms of high-polluting facilities. Now is the time to act.”

About Walter J. Leslie

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