Thursday, December 19, 2019

Revealed: Denka lobbied to undermine science behind ‘likely’ cancer-causing toxin

Emily Holden in Washington and Oliver Laughland in New Orleans
Thu 19 Dec 2019 05.00 EST

Facing public pressure to rein in its pollution, a Japanese chemical manufacturer has instead launched an aggressive, years-long campaign to undermine the science showing that its compounds could cause cancer, according to newly released documents reviewed by the Guardian.

Chloroprene, the primary constituent of the synthetic rubber neoprene, is the major air pollutant in the town of Reserve, Louisiana, an area which according to the Environment Protection Agency has the highest risk of cancer due to airborne toxins anywhere in the US.

The town, and the chemicals plant operated by Denka Performance Elastomer, is the subject of a year-long Guardian reporting project, Cancer Town.


In 2010, the EPA concluded an extensive, independent, peer-reviewed assessment of chloroprene which found that the compound was “likely to be carcinogenic to humans”. The federal government has recommended a maximum level of chloroprene humans should inhale over a lifetime as 0.2 micrograms a cubic metre. The agency, however, doesn’t enforce its guidelines.

For years Denka has been quietly fighting to discount the underlying science that proves chloroprene is a dangerous carcinogen even in low amounts. Denka argues that lifetime chloroprene exposure levels could be 156 times higher than what the EPA has determined and that the chemical shouldn’t be considered a likely carcinogen.

A series of documents, shared with the Guardian and released to lawyers for Reserve residents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), shows the company and its contractors have pursued EPA scientists and pushed them to accept their own new modeling, which Denka has offered multiple new peer-reviewed studies to try to bolster.

Emails show EPA officials resisting Denka’s efforts.


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