NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency said it has evidence that black residents of an industrial part of Louisiana are at increased risk of cancer from a nearby chemical plant and state officials have allowed air pollution to remain high and downplay its threat.

The agency’s 56-page letter to Louisiana officials describes early findings of racial discrimination by two Louisiana departments involving the entire New Orleans-Baton Rouge corridor, a factory that, according to the EPA, emits large amounts of cancer-causing chemicals and a proposed plastic complex.

It said the EPA has “considerable evidence suggesting the actions or inactions of the departments” black residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, St. James Parish, and the 85-mile (137-kilometer) industrial corridor officially named, hurt and hurt. the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor.

Robert Taylor, director of Concerned Citizens of St. John, who asked the EPA to investigate the state, said his community has been “failed time and again by every level of government.”

“This is a real and serious health emergency and we are seeking urgent action from EPA to resolve the problem in St. John, where massive amounts of chloroprene have just been found on top of years of already unacceptable pollution we’ve been breathing in,” Taylor said. “This must come to an end.”

The letter dated Wednesday and posted on the EPA website, it said it appears the Department of Environmental Quality has spent decades exposing nearby residents and elementary school children to enough chloroprene to increase their risk of cancer.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that anyone who has received federal funds may not discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. The Biden administration has stepped up enforcement of environmental discrimination, and Title VI is part of its pledge to elevate environmental justice. In September, federal officials announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Law and External Civil Rights in the EPA.

At the request of local environmental and activist groups, the EPA opened Title VI investigations into whether Louisiana regulators have discriminated against black residents by failing to control air pollution in the industrial part of the state that some call “cancer alley.”

EPA said the state must consider the cumulative impact of pollution from three Denka units with overdue license renewals and from one of Formosa’s 14 air permits for the proposed chemical facility it is retaining or reconsidering. A state judge in Baton Rouge overturned Formosa’s permits, but her ruling was held back on appeal, the EPA noted.

The state environmental agency should set air permit limits throughout the corridor to reduce chemicals that can cause cancer-causing mutations, EPA said. It said the Louisiana health department should consider all ways to protect children at Fifth Ward Elementary School from chloroprene, including finding places to take them in and out of St. John the Baptist Parish.

Jim Harris, a Denka spokesperson, rejected any suggestion the plant contributed to an increased risk of cancer, saying the EPA’s recommended threshold for chloroprene is based on a “faulty and outdated exposure model.” The Denka plant has significantly reduced its emissions in recent years.

The investigation into the state’s practices is not over yet. The agency wants its initial findings to lead to an agreement with Louisiana officials to make significant changes to the air permit program.

“EPA’s expectation is that the information in this letter will help facilitate that process and result in a prompt resolution of each of these complaints,” the agency said in a statement.

The EPA’s letter states that it has “significant concerns” that LDEQ air quality permit management could already endanger people near Formosa Plastics’ proposed complex, “and that these risks appear to be disproportionately borne by the black market.” residents.”

“They see what we are going through and they see this is environmental racism,” said Sharon Lavigne, who created Rise St. James to fight Formosa Plastics’ $9.4 Billion Plans

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for 10 factories and four other facilities near Welcome, a predominantly black community of about 670.

Lisa Jordan, director of Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic and an attorney on the Title VI complaint directed at Formosa, said the letter from the EPA indicates it is taking the complaint seriously.

The letter “was not a finding, but rather a step in the ongoing process,” according to the Ministry of Environmental Quality. The agency said it will continue to work “to resolve any issues and is committed to protecting human health and the environment.”

The Louisiana Department of Health did not immediately respond to an email and phone calls requesting comment.

Formosa’s Louisiana affiliate, FG LA LLC, “will comply with all state and federal standards established to protect the community and the environment,” spokesman Janile Parks said. She said the company believes its permits are in order and that the state has fulfilled its duty to protect the environment.

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Michael Phillis reported from St. Louis.

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For all AP environmental coverages, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

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