‘A hostile environment’: Reserve residents react to DOJ filing lawsuit against Denka over cancer risk from emissions

RESERVE (WVUE) – Residents living near the Denka Performance Elastomer LLC plant in Reserve said Tuesday they’re happy to hear the federal government is pursuing a lawsuit against the chemical company responsible for operating the plant that produces synthetic rubber.

According to the federal complaint, the Denka plant emits the carcinogen chloroprene and other chemicals in such high concentrations that it poses an unacceptable cancer risk. Children are particularly vulnerable, with an elementary school about a half-mile away from the site.

Lesa Anderson works at Fifth Ward Elementary and lives near the plant.

“Those kids are not just in the area here, living in the area, but they have to breathe it as well because they’re in school,” Anderson said. “I feel if they’re going to do something, clean the community up first so we can get the children and us out of this hostile environment. I feel it’s very hostile.”

The former DuPont plant has reduced its emissions over time, but the Justice Department, suing on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the plant still represents “an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare,’’ including elevated cancer risks.


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“We’re breathing a lot of the air. A lot of people have congestive heart failures, cancers, allergies,” Anderson said.

Anderson said many of her friends and neighbors have suffered from cancer. She said the lawsuit is a good start.

“We’re seeing that something is going to go on to help the people in the community. I think it’s a good thing they’re doing,” she said. “But I don’t feel they should just start something: continue it and get it done.”

FOX 8 aired a series of reports entitled “Air of Uncertainty” on the plant and the effects of its emissions.

“Justice has to be served,” said Raymond Frank, a lifetime resident of Reserve.

“I saw a lot of people being affected by Denka,” Frank said. “I would say it’s time. A lot of people have lost family members, a lot of people have lost loved ones.”

Denka, a Japanese company that bought the rubber-making plant in 2015, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. A company spokesperson said in September that advocates described a crisis that “simply does not exist.”

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