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Chemical plants must limit the emissions of 2 toxic pollutants, EPA rules

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Environmental Protection Agency today announced a major rule change to reduce toxic pollution at more than 200 chemical plants in the U.S. As Halle Parker of member station WWNO reports, many of these plants are concentrated near Black and Latino communities on the Gulf Coast.

HALLE PARKER, BYLINE: The EPA says the new standards for chemical plants will cut enough cancer-causing emissions to reduce cancer risk by more than 90% for people living near these industries.

MICHAEL REGAN: This is a game-changer any way you look at it.

PARKER: That's EPA administrator Michael Regan.

REGAN: This is a game-changer for the health. It's a game-changer for the prosperity. It's a game-changer for children in these communities nationwide.

PARKER: The rule targets two chemicals, ethylene oxide and chloroprene. And it comes more than two years after Regan visited communities breathing in this type of pollution. One was in St. John the Baptist Parish, La., in the heart of Cancer Alley, an industrial corridor in the state. It's home to the country's only chloroprene producer, Denka Performance Elastomers (ph). That chemical is used to make things like beer koozies and wetsuits. But exposure to chloroprine can mutate the DNA in children, increasing the risk of other illnesses.

Robert Taylor lives near the plant. He's pushed for its closure for nearly a decade. The Denka plant is located next to a predominantly Black elementary school.

ROBERT TAYLOR: We couldn't believe the statement that they were being exposed at over 400 times what EPA has set as a safe level of exposure at that time.

PARKER: Taylor says the EPA's new rule is the first time serious action has been taken to lower his community's risk.

TAYLOR: This touched me in a way that I have not overcome yet.

PARKER: Ethylene oxide producers will have two years to comply with the new rule, which includes extensive upgrades to equipment and new fenceline monitors. Denka will have 90 days. Lawyer Jason Hutt represents Denka. He says the company, along with other chemical manufacturers, plan to challenge the EPA's rule.

JASON HUTT: It would be really nice if we could get back to the science and not the politics of the situation because there's a lot of people's livelihoods and jobs that are at stake in this outcome.

PARKER: Hutt says the rule would shutter the Denka plant, threatening more than a hundred local jobs. Meanwhile, community activists are celebrating what they consider a historic move to right past environmental injustices.

For NPR News, I'm Halle Parker in New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Halle Parker