The Dupont facility in Reserve has been releasing chloroprene since 1968. Two months prior to EPA releasing it’s National Air Toxics Assessment(NATA) classifying chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen, Dupont sold the facility to a Japanese company, DENKA. Reserve has the highest cancer risk in the country due to chloroprene air emissions from DENKA.

Reserve is an unincorporated community in St. John the Baptist Parish with a predominantly African-American population of 8,451 (Census 2020). The DuPont Pontchartrain Works facility, currently owned by Denka, was built on the grounds of the Belle Pointe plantation and has been releasing chloroprene, the foundation of the rubber neoprene, since 1968 (The Guardian 2019).

In 2015, the EPA released the National Air Toxics Assessment classifying chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen. The chemical also causes headaches, skin ailments, respiratory problems, and heart issues (The Intercept 2017). The chloroprene releases from this facility are responsible for Reserve having a cancer risk fifty times the national average. Resident Mary Hampton, along with Robert Taylor, and other residents joined together to form the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist organizing group to try to do something about the toxic air (The Guardian May 2019).

Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality issued an Administrative Order on Consent to Denka outlining emission reduction measures, like emissions-reduction devices. Those control technologies have been installed but Denka is actively challenging EPA’s chloroprene assessment. On-going air sampling confirms the local community continues to be exposed to levels above EPA’s recommendations (Desmog 2017).

The air monitors at the Fifth Ward Elementary School, just a mile from the Denka plant, recorded chloroprene levels 755 times higher than the EPA’s guidelines. Despite records like this, the EPA told citizens that setting a legally enforceable standard for the toxin would be difficult, and that because the Pontchartrain Works facility is the sole source of chloroprene in the United States, the agency would be better off setting rules for compounds that affect more than one community (The Guardian 2019).

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s Chuck Brown would not enforce the EPA’s recommended exposure limit of .2 micrograms, pointing to the Louisiana Tumor Registry’s failure to show that the parish as a whole had an elevated rate of cancers (The Intercept 2017). Residents are left without protections from the state or federal government, but the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptists and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network continue to work to reduce emissions and exposure to this hazardous pollutant.