LaPlace, Louisiana – A group of LaPlace residents have filed a class action lawsuit against Denka Performance Elastomer LLC (DPE) and DuPont, claiming that chloroprene emissions from the neoprene rubber manufacturing facility in LaPlace caused their cancer.
"The plaintiffs, along with all proposed class members, are exposed regularly to unsafe levels of chloroprene emitted by the Denka Pontchartrain Works facility and are therefore at a high risk for cancer," stated the complaint filed June 29 with the 40th Judicial District Court for St. John the Baptist Parish in LaPlace.
In an email, a DuPont spokesperson wrote that DuPont does not comment on pending litigation, but added that before the plant was sold to DPE in 2015, "we always operated in accordance with the law and with the safety of our employees and the community and as our highest priority."
DPE issued a statement saying that the remedies sought by the class action are both unnecessary and extreme.
"DPE strongly believes that (the Environmental Protection Agency) and LDEQ (the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality) are the appropriate agencies to review and establish acceptable ambient concentration standards," the company said. "DPE does not agree that the plaintiffs have been damaged by chloroprene emissions from the facility."
DuPont opened a chemical facility in LaPlace in 1964, and began producing its neoprene/chloroprene synthetic rubber there in 1969.
In November 2015, DuPont sold the LaPlace factory to Denka, which continues to produce the SR there.
DuPont invented neoprene in 1931 and began producing it in Louisville in 1941, according to the complaint. Between 1969 and 2008, DuPont produced neoprene in both Louisville and LaPlace, it said.
When DuPont consolidated neoprene production in LaPlace, chloroprene emissions became concentrated there, according to the lawsuit.
DuPont deliberately hid its knowledge of the carcinogenic effects of chloroprene exposure throughout the time it owned the LaPlace facility, and DPE continued that deception after it bought the plant, the complaint said.
In 2010, the US EPA classified chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen, according to the lawsuit. Five years later, an EPA National Air Toxics Assessment established an acceptable risk exposure threshold for chloroprene of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
Yet EPA measurements of chloroprene exposure at the Denka plant and in St. Joseph Parish are many times higher than 0.2 micrograms, the complaint said.
The complaint seeks certification as a class action; an injunction for abatement of chloroprene exposures in excess of 0.2 micrograms; medical monitoring for development of cancer and other diseases caused by chloroprene exposure; punitive damages; and attorneys' fees and court costs.
In its statement, Denka said it has been proactive in reducing chloroprene emissions, including the planned installation of an $18 million regenerative thermal oxidiser designed to reduce chloroprene emissions at LaPlace by 85%.
The applicable regulatory ambient air standard for chloroprene is 857 micrograms per cubic metre of air, as set by the Louisiana Administrative Code, the company said.
There is no regulation or proposed regulation anywhere setting out a chloroprene exposure standard of 0.2 micrograms, according to the company.
"DPE's toxicological and epidemiological consultants have advised the company that the scientific calculations and methodology underlying the suggestion of a (0.2 microgram) value are highly flawed," the company said.
Epidemiological studies show no correlation among chloroprene workers between chloroprene exposure and health problems, Denka said. Also, the Louisiana Tumor Registry shows that the incidence of cancer in St. Joseph Parish is slightly lower than the state average, it said.