Two boys who live near the Dupont/Denka plant in Reserve, St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, on 20 February 2017.  According to the EPA’s most recent National Air Toxics Assessment, which was published in December 2015, the lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution in this area, which is less than 2 square miles, is a staggering 777 per million people, by far the highest in the country and more than 800 times the national average. Photo: William Widmer / The Intercept

By Sharon Lerner
24 March 2017

(The Intercept) – When the Environmental Protection Agency informed people in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, last July that the local neoprene plant was emitting a chemical that gave them the highest risk of cancer from air pollution in the country, the information was received not just with horror and sadness but also with a certain sense of validation.

For years, many of the people living on this little square of land between the train tracks and the Mississippi River levee have felt they suffered more than their share of illnesses. Troyla Keller has a rash and asthma that abate every time she leaves the neighborhood and worsen when she returns. Augustine Nicholson Dorris had breast cancer and seizures. And David Sanders has trouble breathing, a tumor on his thyroid, and neurological problems. “It took a lot away from me,” said Sanders, whose speech is slurred, when I visited the area a half-hour west of New Orleans in February. Several people spoke of shuttling their children and grandchildren to the nearby ER for asthma treatments. And many residents also frequent the neighborhood’s two busy dialysis centers. A third is under construction. […]

Besides being a likely human carcinogen, chloroprene, the gas the plant has been releasing into this community for 48 years, is known to weaken immune systems and cause headaches, heart palpitations, anemia, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes. So the EPA’s news, bad as it was, provided a form of relief. After all these years, a government agency was helping to explain the residents’ strange predicament. The people living next to the plant might be sick, but at least they weren’t crazy.

The air pollution crisis in St. John the Baptist may be the best illustration of why we need the EPA — and how the imminent slashing of the federal agency’s budget will be measurable in illnesses and deaths. Since 2002, the EPA has periodically published a report estimating the expected number of cancers per million people in every census tract based on airborne emissions from industry. For most of the country, the expected number of cancers due to this pollution is somewhere between zero and one. The national average is .968.

But for the people living in the census tract within St. John the Baptist that is home to the Taylors, Kellers, Sanders, and Gerards, the risk is dramatically higher. According to the EPA’s most recent National Air Toxics Assessment, which was published in December 2015, the lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution in this area, which is less than 2 square miles, is a staggering 777 per million people, by far the highest in the country and more than 800 times the national average. Other census tracts near the plant had risks that were more than 200, 300, and 400 times higher. [more]

The Plant Next Door: A Louisiana Town Plagued by Pollution Shows Why Cuts to the EPA Will Be Measured in Illnesses and Deaths

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