Smell Something, Say Something: Denka announces LaPlace carcinogen emission reduction plan

Published 12:13 am Saturday, November 26, 2016

LAPLACE — If you smell something, say something.

That may even include calling 911, according to St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom.

“We have a process that when (residents) smell something, a lot of times we’re not sure what that is,” Robottom said.

“Because Denka is in the news, (residents) are making an assumption that things they smell are related to Denka. Well, that is not always the case. Sometimes, it is a barge on the river. Sometimes it is one of the other plants.”

Robottom encourages residents who live around Denka’s LaPlace facility to call 911 when they smell something out of the ordinary in the air, adding, “we will send someone out to investigate what’s going on.”

Robottom said the process helps create a local and state record of what happened when and what the results were.


Denka, a Tokyo-based company, has been a source of interest for local residents for more than a year following its acquisition of DuPont Performance Polymers, a synthetic rubber business in LaPlace.

At the time, Denka established LaPlace as its new U.S. corporate headquarters.

The announcement in November of 2015 accompanied Denka’s completed acquisition of DuPont’s polychloroprene synthetic rubber business, known by the trade name Neoprene.

Material produced at the St. John site, located between Airline Highway and River Road on the western side of LaPlace, is used in consumer products including wet suits, orthopedic braces, adhesives, electrical insulation and coatings.

The Denka plant produces chloroprene while making neoprene rubber.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies chloroprene as a possible human carcinogen — a substance or agent that tends to produce a cancer.

Louisiana Depart-ment of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Press Secretary Greg Langley told L’OBSERVATEUR that chloroprene’s carcinogen threat was based on exposure seven days a week, 24 hours a day for 70 years.

“I don’t know that anybody has been exposed to that kind of duration,” Langley recently said.

“We have found no indication of elevated incidents of any kind of cancer in (St. John the Baptist Parish).”

Robottom said this week that Louisiana DEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown assured her if state regulators felt St. John Parish residents were in any imminent danger, they would move to shut the Denka plant down.

“They don’t feel that way; they feel the company is cooperating fully,” Robottom said.


Denka Performance Elastomer announced late Tuesday afternoon it is instituting a series of measures to reduce chloroprene emissions from the LaPlace facility.

Plant Manager Jorge Lavastida stressed Denka has always been in compliance with existing air permits, adding this effort is to “voluntarily install a series of measures designed to reduce emissions of chloroprene by 85 percent” and is being worked in unison with EPA and DEQ consultation.

• Denka is installing a modification at the Neoprene Unit to route emissions from the Poly Kettles Vent Condenser to an additional vent condenser that will operate in series with the existing equipment.

• Denka is installing a vacuum pump and brine condenser on the Chloroprene Refining Column, replacing an older vacuum system.

• More than 1,200 feet of pipe is being installed to route process vents in the monomer area to the HCl unit for removal by combustion.

• Denka is installing a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer to remove much of the remaining chloroprene emissions from the site.

Robottom said Parish leaders have been informed by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality that local residents should start to see chloroprene reductions in great numbers by six months and reach the 85 percent reduction in 12 months.


Wilma Subra, a chemist and technical adviser with Louisiana Environmental Action Network, has been a vocal critic of the plant’s emissions, speaking at numerous parish meetings.

She said this week that the reduction announcement does not go far enough.

She also questions statistics used to judge local cancer impact.

While recently speaking in front of the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, she repeatedly mentioned the higher-than-allowed chloroprene presence marked by DEQ testing in various locations, including Fifth Ward Elementary and East St. John High School.

Subra said cancer registry statistics showed no increased risk since the plant began operating 47 years ago, adding those numbers may be skewed.

“Frequently when someone comes down with cancer, they go out of state for treatment and a lot of times that does not get recorded back here where they live,” she said.

Subra said the answer would be clearer after the EPA further monitors the health impacts associated with the current air testing, adding the Action Network is working with numerous St. John Parish residents and elected leaders to complete hundreds of local health surveys.