LaPLACE, La.—A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Denka Performance Elastomer, which recently achieved a chloroprene emissions reduction goal at its LaPlace facility.
The achievement of this emissions goal has been certified by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which in 2017 signed an agreement with Denka that detailed the voluntary plan for the emissions reduction goal and formalized the effort through a legal contract.
Denka acquired the location from DuPont in November 2015. During the first year of plant ownership, Denka invested $35 million to install "several new, large pieces of equipment" and made improvements to the plant. Denka then worked to optimize use of the new equipment and tackled additional emission reduction projects beyond its agreement with the state, the company said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called chloroprene a likely carcinogen in 2010, according to the LDEQ. That determination led to years of legal battles regarding emissions from the facility.
One of those lawsuits, a federal class-action filed against Denka, has been dismissed.
The civil action was brought by Juanea L. Butler, who has lived and worked near the facility for years. The lawsuit alleged DuPont and then Denka emitted unsafe levels of chloroprene, according to the judicial order dismissing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Butler claims to suffer from a variety of ailments due to exposure from chloroprene emissions. Denka, however, pointed to the Louisiana Tumor Registry, a statewide population-based registry that tracks illness rates and offers guidelines for cancer prevention, saying that the parish in which the plant is located has average or below average illness numbers compared to the rest of the state.
Statistics show Denka's chloroprene emissions have decreased by 84.6 percent in 2019 compared to 2014. And when rounded to 85 percent, last year's data satisfies the administrative order, the state said.
Denka faced some challenges in achieving the 85 percent level, including some flooding and exceptionally cold weather during the project, said Jim Harris, a company spokesman who works for Harris, Deville & Associates Inc. of Baton Rouge, which describes itself as an "issues management" communications firm.
"They are continuing to look at other emission reduction possibilities, not just chloroprene but others they emit. They are not stopping, but they have no additional major commitment of dollars at this point," he said.
St. John the Baptist Parish, where Denka's LaPlace facility is located, is just west of New Orleans. Denka employs about 240 full-time workers at the plant, making it the second-largest employer in the parish.
The Denka facility makes neoprene by polymerizing chloroprene, a liquid monomer.
"The neoprene made by Denka here in Louisiana is used to make a lot of different products, from military equipment, wetsuits, phone cases, athletic wear like leggings and different equipment that you would recognize," said David LaPlante, also of Deville & Associates.
He said neoprene also is used in a variety of health care products, including respirator bags, bandages and medical equipment such as braces. COVID-19 has created a demand increase for the material.
Even with the dismissal of the class-action case, Denka is not clear of legal issues.
Harris indicated there are several thousand smaller individual lawsuits at the state court level that have yet to be adjudicated. "You have to realize Louisiana is a very litigious state and lawsuits are filed at the drop of a hat, quite frankly," he said.
He also held out the possibility that more class-action lawsuits might be filed and the Butler case could be appealed.