Emissions of a likely carcinogen emitted by a nearby plant have been recorded at levels hundreds of times above the safe limit

Local officials in Reserve, Louisiana, are examining the prospect of removing pupils from an elementary school situated a few hundred feet from a chemical plant that presents the highest risk of cancer due to airborne toxins anywhere in America, the Guardian has learned.

The Fifth Ward elementary school, which educates close to 500 students aged up to 10 years old, has become a focal point in environmental activism in Reserve after emissions of a likely carcinogen, chloroprene, emitted by the nearby plant have been recorded at the school at levels hundreds of times above the safe limit recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Reserve is the focus of a year-long reporting series by the Guardian, Cancer Town, which is examining local residents fight for clean air in a locality the EPA says has a cancer risk that is 50 times above the national average. The plant, the PontchartrainWorks facility, has been operated by the Japanese company Denka since 2015 and was run by the chemicals giant DuPont for just under five decades. It is the only place in America to produce the synthetic rubber neoprene.

In a statement the St John the Baptist school board confirmed its executive committee had voted to conduct a study to look into the feasibility of moving students from Fifth Ward elementary. The study will examine the financial impact of such a move and to determine how to address the matter with the courts because the district is still under and must comply with a desegregation order.

The move marks a turn in local authorities attitude to air pollution issues in the municipality. In November last year the school board was sued by a local parent who demanded they relocate students at Fifth Ward after residents and activists claimed they were being ignored by local officials. The lawsuit was later dismissed after agreement on both sides.

We want to make the right decision. Thats why were taking the proactive step of looking into the feasibility study to see where it would take us, and what impact it would have on the school district itself to move the students around to another site in the district, said Patrick Sanders, the St John the Baptist parish school board president. Sanders did not offer a timeframe of when the review would be completed.

Members of the Concerned Citizens of St John protest near a school in Reserve, Louisiana. Photograph: Julie Dermansky

Sanders, who has lived in Reserve all his life, said he had begun to consider the air quality issues in the area more closely after the death of his own sister from a rare neurological disease, neurosarcoidosis.

I grew up in that district. Im still a resident of that district. Im less than 500ft away from the plant site itself. I truly have some personal concerns about the air quality and the effect that it has on the local residents, myself included, he said.

But he warned that other members of the 11-person board were more skeptical of a move to disperse the students.

There are concerns from other board members that these are the same children that are going back into the community [near the plant]. Even if we disperse them to other schools for a period of eight hours, theyre coming back home to the same community and breathing the same air, he said.

Sanders has previously written to Denka in March 2019 to ask them to comply with a safe standard of chloroprene emissions suggested by the EPA. The EPA recommends a safe lifetime exposure limit of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of chloroprene, but readings at Fifth Ward have sometimes been hundreds of times above that. In November 2017 a reading was taken at the school that was 755 times above the EPA guidance.

Denka, which has entered into a voluntary agreement with the state of Louisiana to reduce emissions by 85%, did not respond to a request for comment. Denka and DuPont are facing potential legal action from Louisianas environment agency, LDEQ, over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us


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