‘Cancer Alley’ polluters in EPA crosshairs

The federal government has reached a settlement with a German-based chemical company as part of a crackdown on toxic emissions along an 85-mile Mississippi River corridor in Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley.”

The Environmental Protection Agency sued Evonik Industries for violating permitted emission limits of ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol at its facility in Reserve, Louisiana. The settlement requires Evonik, one of the world’s largest specialty chemical companies, to reduce air pollutants by 5.6 tons per year at the Reserve facility in St. John the Baptist Parish.

‘Cancer Alley’ Residents Face Exposure Risk 

Residents along the stretch of more than 150 plants and refineries between Baton Rouge and New Orleans have reported health problems from toxic pollution exposure, including birth defects and cancer. It is one of the most polluted places in the United States. Residents are 50 times more likely to get cancer than the average American, earning the area its notorious moniker.

Louisiana chemical and refinery workers are especially vulnerable to the health risks of chemical exposure, including cancer and the potential for birth defects in their offspring.

Evonik employs more than 50 people in Reserve facility, which manufactures specialty surface active agents for cleaning products, laundry soap, surface coatings and agricultural applications. These agents reduce the surface tension between chemical substances. They enable oil and water to mix, making it possible to remove grease spots using water and a detergent. Evonik purchased the Reserve site in 2017.

Evonik agreed to several measures at part of the settlement, including:

  • Replacing equipment that has been linked to large emissions.
  • Implementing an enhanced leak detection and repair program aimed at cutting the release of harmful chemicals.

What is Ethylene Oxide?

Of particular concern is ethylene oxide, a flammable, colorless gas used to make chemicals commonly found in plastics, antifreeze, adhesives and other consumer products. Exposure to ethylene oxide can result in respiratory and lung problems, headache, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and other health issues. Chronic exposure has been associated with birth defects, mutations, brain damage and cancer.

The EPA said the settlement is expected to reduce the emission of ethylene oxide by 2.16 tons per year. Along with a $75,000 penalty, the settlement also requires Evonik to implement a $335,000 project that will install a vapor recovery system to capture and redirect harmful chemicals as trucks load and unload.

EPA officials said the Evonik data was collected from pollution monitoring and real-time inspections in 2022 as part of the agency’s Pollution Accountability Team, which requires chemical plants nationwide to measure hazardous compounds that cross property lines, then reduce them when they are too high. The program was designed by the EPA based on the concerns of area residents.

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims’ alliance understand the pain that families face when coping with life-altering birth defects—and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 40 years of combined experience in birth defects litigation in cases involving semiconductor and electronics manufacturing, pesticides, and energy production. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations that put them in danger. Contact us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.