The EPA has been monitoring chloroprene emissions at six sites near the plant, which has been run by Japanese chemical company Denka, since 2016, but recently announced plans to change the way it records emissions. The agency currently performs a regular air reading once every six days, chloroprene emissions being regularly tens of times higher than the lifetime exposure threshold recommended by the agency of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter .
The new system, involving new monitors called Spods, will be designed to detect chloroprene “spikes” each time they occur, which means authorities expect more readings to occur throughout the six month program.
"Our goal in this regard is to find chloroprene," said David Gray, deputy regional director of the EPA regional office for six at a community meeting in Reserve on Tuesday evening.
The official told residents that the agency had not yet decided at what level a "peak" would be determined, but that it was likely to be well above the agency's own exposure guidelines. 0.2 microgram. The monitors will also not measure chloroprene itself directly, but other volatile compounds that the researchers say indicate an increased presence of chloroprene in ambient air.
Speaking to the Guardian after the meeting, Gray said the program's final schedule had not been assigned, but officials were determined to capture a so-called "turnaround" at the factory when daily operations were interrupted. for renewal and high levels of chloroprene are expected to be released into the air.
He suggested that the data showing chloroprene spikes would allow the EPA to engage with plant operators and find ways to reduce emissions.
"Obviously, for us, it's faster if people do it voluntarily, if we show them things that are reasonable, easy to do, very beneficial and inexpensive," said Gray. "But we have the most difficult toolkit, which is legal and enforceable. "
The new monitoring system has met with some criticism from members of the local community who have urged the EPA to adopt a stricter line of control over Denka and to measure other pollutants in the air on the reserve.
"We must do it and do it quickly because too many generations have been damaged by it," said Margaret Fiedler, a local resident. “It affects children's ability to learn. I'm at the end of my road, but I don't want to see the children of Fifth Ward [an elementary school next to the plant] have learning disabilities. "
Gray was also interviewed by lawyers representing residents in a class action against Denka, over a short series of emails the grievor had with the plant manager, which the lawyers said indicated a close relationship between the EPA and Denka.
Gray rejected the suggestion. "It is not my intention to come here and weaken you in any way," he said at the meeting. "I am involved in this project ... It breaks my heart to make you think of something else."
A Denka spokesman said on Wednesday that the company had no position on the new air monitoring system, but suggested that the old system had given the public "considerable information".
The company has often highlighted the $ 35 million spent on installing emission control systems in recent years. Denka said the facilities reduced chloroprene emissions by 86%. It has been disputed on this allegation by the Louisiana Environmental Quality Department (LDEQ).