JToday, a federal court issued a decree of consent order tthe United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to dterminate whether to update pollution limits for Group I Polymers and Resins installations. These types of facilities manufacture synthetic rubber used to make products such as wetsuits, gaskets and seals, pipes and tubes, plumbing fixtures, as well as adhesives. During this process, the facilities emit dangerous air pollutants such as ethylene oxide and chloroprene, which can cause cancer if people are exposed to them.
“Fence communities live daily with the health consequences of toxic air pollution from Group I polymer and resin facilities, including extraordinarily high cancer risk,” said Deena Tumeh, Earthjustice lawyer. “Reinforcing pollution limits is essential to protect public health. We expect the EPA to deliver on its promise to advance environmental justice and issue the strongest health protection rule possible.
Today’s decision is a encouraging sign and stems from a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Concerned Citizens of St. John, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the Sierra Club in November 2021. A federal court in Washington, D.C. issued the consent decree on Wednesday requiring the EPA to enforce the overdue regulations. This consent decree also resolves certain claims from a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project and other environmental groups regarding the EPA’s air toxics standards at these facilities and the need to tighten flaring requirements. . Now the EPA must come up with a rule with potentially updated pollution limits by March 2023 and a final rule by March 2024.
“For too long, St. John has been abandoned by all levels of government – starting with our state’s environmental agency, to our governor, to our representatives in Congress, to several presidential administrations,” said Robert Taylor, who lives in St. John and is a member of Concerned Citizens of St. John. “The EPA must act now and protect this community facing a serious health emergency and the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation. The EPA must also advance the fundamental environmental justice goals to which it has recommitted under the leadership of President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan.
Meach of these facilities is close to disproportionately black, Latino and low-income communities, primarily in Louisiana and Texas. In Cancer Alley, located along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, is a neoprene facility that emits dangerous amounts of chloroprene. As a result, surrounding communities suffer from the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation, according to the EPA’s 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment. Chloroprene can also damage the nervous and cardiovascular systems as well as liver and kidney function.
“Chloroprene and ethylene oxide released from industrial facilities have a negative impact the health of community members in St. John the Baptist Parish and neighboring parishes,” said Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review and revise its emission standards “as necessary” at least every eight years, but the EPA has not made for these manufacturing facilities for over a decade. At that time, EPA scientists concluded that the cancer risk from ethylene oxide and chloroprene was much more serious than previously thought, leaving many communities vulnerable to serious and irreversible health problems. Citing these conclusionsOffice of the EPA Inspector General urged the the agency to review and update health risks and technology-based standards for industrial facilities that emit ethylene oxide or chloroprene.
“The Sierra Club is pleased with this action by the EPA, but it is not for the affected communities to sue the EPA for this protection,” said Darryl Malek-Wiley, Sierra Club, Senior Organization Representative. “Communities in Cancer Alley, Louisiana have been calling for protection from these toxins in our air for decades. We hope this is the start of a more active EPA with enforcement of current laws and stronger protections for communities from toxic air pollution.”
Communities requiring the EPA to set limits on chloroprene that fully protect the health of communities and follow well-established science, include monitoring and enforcement of fences. The agency must also close loopholes that allow industry to circumvent pollution limits during malfunctions.