DOJ and EPA File Complaint Over Denka Facility’s Air Pollution Cancer Risks in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana

A new major federal complaint, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (on behalf of the EPA) on February 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, brings to light how a neoprene plastic factory in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, is allegedly violating the Clean Air Act. Run by Denka Performance Elastomer since 2015 and previously by DuPont, the “Pontchartrain Works” facility, as it is known, presents an “imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare due to the cancer risks from Denka’s chloroprene emissions,” according to the official complaint. Denka’s facility is the only such plant emitting toxic chloroprene in the United States.

The federal complaint states that air monitoring around Denka’s facility have consistently shown high levels of chloroprene in the air—up to 14 times what’s considered a safe lifetime limit. According to the DOJ, the goal of the complaint is to compel Denka to significantly cut its chloroprene emissions for the safety and health of surrounding communities. The complaint also calls on DuPont, which rents the land out to Denka, to hold the polluter accountable for cutting emissions. 

The EPA in 2010 concluded in a peer-reviewed assessment that chloroprene is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” and that “childhood may represent a potentially susceptible lifestage to chloroprene toxicity.” This is especially concerning given the close proximity of Fifth Ward Elementary School, and other schools, to Denka’s polluting facility. 

Residents of Reserve and LaPlace, in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, have long spoken out against the neoprene facility situated between both communities in predominantly Black neighborhoods that has been emitting toxic chloroprene gas and other pollutants since 1968. Despite community concerns and actions, including recent class-action lawsuits, requests for Louisiana State agencies to take action, and evidence that they carry the highest risk of cancer in the country (at least 50 times the national average for residents nearest the facility), as well as international attention on environmental injustice in southern Louisiana, and ongoing U.S. EPA air monitoring and visits to the facility producing worrying findings on toxic emissions and worker safety, the plant has continued to operate.

As residents of Reserve and LaPlace await action and answers to arise from this new federal action, we encourage you to listen to and watch community testimony, which has been collected and shared by Concerned Citizens of St. John. This group has brought much attention to the environmental racism inherent in the unjust placement of industry in their communities and others like it. Environmental racism is a form of violence against Black people, and other underserved groups, and in St. John the Baptist Parish is inherently linked to the inhuman legacy of slavery in the United States.


October 25, 2022 , 11:00 am 1:00 pm EDT

With the climate crisis on full blast, join Rise St. James in Washington, D.C. to demand that President Biden protect Gulf communities from fossil fuel pollution and declare a climate emergency. We will also be demanding that President Biden meet personally with leaders from St. James, including Sharon Lavigne.

What: Traditional Louisiana funeral procession to the White House, honoring Gulf community leaders who have died from of the toxic chemicals spewed by the fossil fuel industry.

When: Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 11 a.m.

Where: Meet at Freedom Plaza — 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC

Please wear black to participate in this somber event. We will travel together from Freedom Plaza to the White House, which is about half a mile. There will be signs and other visuals for you to hold, so please do not bring your own.

The National Cancer Prevention Workshop hosted by Plastic Pollution Coalition member Less Cancer is now available to watch online. Typically a live event on National Cancer Prevention Day in the U.S. (Feb. 4) the workshop was virtual this year and featured over 10 hours of original programming with key leaders in cancer prevention, journalism, education and government. 

“Our bipartisan focus is on cancer prevention, not politics,” said Less Cancer Founder Bill Couzens. “We have one of our most dynamic lineups ever with more than 70 presenters including physicians, nurses, scientists, public health professionals, legislators, advocates and educators.”

Panel moderators, speakers, and roundtable conversations included:

  • Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, author, What the Eyes Don’t See
  • U.S. Representative Don Beyer, Virginia
  • Rob Bilott, attorney, author of Exposure that became the movie “Dark Waters”
  • U.S. Representative Michael Burgess, M.D., Texas
  • U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean, Pennsylvania
  • U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell, Michigan
  • US Senator Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire
  • Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global founder, author, public speaker and Huffington Post co-founder
  • Jill Kargman, author, comedian, actress
  • U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, California
  • U.S. Representative Dan Kildee, Michigan
  • Miles O’Brien, journalist
  • U.S. Representative Chris Pappas, New Hampshire
  • U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers, Washington
  • U.S. Representative Fred Upton, Michigan
  • Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and EPA administrator under George Bush

The National Cancer Prevention Workshop typically is an event on Capitol Hill on National Cancer Prevention Day that educates students, legislators, and provides continuing education credits for physicians, nurse and public health professionals. 

“While this year has proven to have some extreme hurdles to overcome, we possibly have our most interesting workshop,” said Less Cancer Founder Bill Couzens. “When we founded National Cancer Prevention Day in 2013, we had no way of understanding how many would embrace it. Our workshop has grown to include global participants from over 10 countries. The impact lasts all year as thousands of students register for the training on Coursera.”

Speakers included several renowned leaders including physicians, nurses, public health professionals, scientists, government organizations, NGOs, advocates and legislators. 

“We commend our colleagues at Less Cancer for taking an extra step in creating National Cancer Prevention Day,” said Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO at Plastic Pollution Coalition. “At Plastic Pollution Coalition, we believe in looking at the big picture and focusing on prevention from disease and pollution. We now know the chemicals used to make plastic are endocrine disruptors. On a personal level, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that was estrogen receptive, and she died at age 43. How do we prevent exposure to chemicals of concern? We must focus on prevention of disease and upstream solutions to pollution.”

The workshop is available on YouTube and Coursera. 

National Cancer Prevention Day first came about through a House of Representatives resolution led by Less Cancer on February 4, 2013. It states that work to prevent cancer impacts human health, the environment, and the economy. 

For more information, visit

About Less Cancer

Founded in 2004, the Next Generation Choices Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity known more widely as “Less Cancer.” The organization works to educate the public, create proactive public policies, and offer continuing education credit to physicians, nurses, and public health professionals regarding cancer, over 50 percent of which are preventable. Less Cancer signifies a new paradigm for addressing cancer, one focused on prevention. This is a departure from previous treatment-focused approaches, which focus on beating, conquering, or curing cancer.

February 4 is National Cancer Prevention Day and February is National Cancer Prevention Month. Did you know that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States? While it’s true that fewer children are dying of cancer than in the past, the rate of children being diagnosed with cancer has actually increased by 34% since 1975.

Because of the important work of leading scientists and health professionals, we know that toxic chemicals in the environment and in the places where children live, learn, and play are important risk factors for cancer, and that genetics alone cannot explain the rate of increase.

Due to the significant increase in the rate of childhood cancers, a team of over 60 stakeholders and leaders in the health, science, business, policy and advocacy sectors have collaborated on a the report: Childhood Cancer: Cross-Sector Strategies for Prevention.

This coalition seeks to establish a National Childhood Cancer Prevention Research Agenda and Plan to reverse the upward trend in childhood cancer incidence through a dramatic reduction of toxic chemicals, with a strong “all hands on deck” cross-sector approach to childhood cancer prevention.

“We do not know which of these 85,000-plus chemicals may be driving increases in the incidence of childhood cancers,” said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, FAAP, director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College. “We are flying blind with no instruments. We must act now on the urgent need to confront the rising incidence of cancer in America’s children. We need to launch a National Cancer Prevention Plan—a second front on the War on Cancer—a powerful program of intervention against the root causes of childhood cancer that will complement and sustain the great advances we have made in cancer treatment.”

Individuals can sign the CCPI letter of support here.

Organizations can sign the Joint Statement on Cancer Prevention here.

Read and share the report:

Watch our recent webinar featuring Dr. Landrigan, Global Human Health & Ocean Plastic Pollution.

Sign up for our February webinar: Will Humanity Survive Plastic Pollution? Toxic Impact of Plastics’ Chemicals on Fertility.

Download our free Healthy Pregnancy Guide or Healthy Baby Guide.

Join our global Coalition.

Did you know that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States? Childhood cancer kills more children than pediatric AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy combined.

While it’s true that fewer children are dying of cancer than in the past, the rate of children being diagnosed with cancer has actually increased by 34% since 1975.

Because of the important work of leading scientists and health professionals, we know that toxic chemicals in the environment and in the places where children live, learn and play are important risk factors for cancer, and that genetics alone cannot explain the rate of increase. It’s time to take action!

Due to the significant increase in the rate of childhood cancers, a team of over 60 stakeholders and leaders in the Health, Science, Business, Policy and Advocacy sectors have collaborated on a new report: Childhood Cancer: Cross-Sector Strategies for Prevention.

Watch the teleconference on Facebook.

In a new study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, the watchdog Environmental Working Group reports that as many as 420 known or suspected cancer-causing chemicals have been found in human hair, blood, urine and tissue. The report states there are more than 1,400 chemicals and chemical groups that are known carcinogens to which humans are exposed daily via food, air, water and increasingly, consumer products.

Repeated exposure means a build-up of not only individual chemicals, but of chemical compounds that could make them even more toxic. Scientists are increasingly focused on which combinations of chemicals are the most carcinogenic, according to EWG.

Most of the approximately 80,000 chemicals on the market today (64,000 according to the New York Times) have not been tested for safety to humans, animals or the environment, under existing law. About 80 percent of them are polymers and plastics, namely polyethylenepolypropylenepolyvinyl chloridepolyethylene terephthalatepolystyrene and polycarbonate. Health and science authorities estimate approximately one in five cases of cancer are caused by chemicals and environmental exposure. 

RELATED: U.S. Senate approves update to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act regulating chemical safety. The bill would require the federal Environmental Protection Agency to begin testing the thousands of already-approved chemicals on the market. Read the measure. 

In the wake of the report, an online panel discussion by be Waste Wise June 15 addressed “Health Impacts of Plastic Pollution.” Speaking of the prevalence of chemicals in the environment, moderator Lisa Kaas Boyle declared, “Capitalism comes with no protections. We are exporting (industrial chemicals) all over the world; what are we doing?” Boyle, an environmental attorney and Plastic Pollution Coalition co-founder, coauthored important legislation, including the 2015 federal ban on microbeads. She asked the panel, “Should corporations have the burden of proof?”

Panelist Stacy Malkin of U.S. Right To Know points out what she calls “the insanity of our materials economy” that “incentivizes ever-increasing profits” and encourages “new ways to sell us stuff we don’t need, regardless of impacts to health and the environment.” She points to “insane” plastic microbeads as an example of a product marketed by corporations to consumers that is a known carcinogen. “It’s crazy,” she says with incredulity. 

Panelist Arlene Blum, PhD, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, discussed the six classes of chemicals most associated with cancer risk and in hormonal, neurological, and reproductive impairments, including flame retardants, bisphenols and phthalates. On the organization’s website is information about reducing exposure to these worst offenders.

According to the EWG report, scientists and physicians are looking more closely and critically now at chemicals’ culpability in cancer development. “It is not enough to simply consider the effects of individual chemicals on the body,” the report states. “The combined effects of the many chemicals we are exposed to in real-life circumstances must also be taken into account.”

The report is part of an EWG initiative titled “Rethinking Cancer.” It goes on to state:

As we fight for stronger chemical laws we should also be aware of the sources of carcinogens in our environment, food and consumers products. Reducing exposures to carcinogens, whether through regulation or personal choices, can have important health benefits.

Read the report: The Pollution in People: Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Americans’ Bodies

SIGN OF CANCER: A hermit crab stakes out a plastic shell, above. Photo: Northways via Foter.