“Cancer Alley” Toxic Polluters Face Little Oversight From Regulators

“Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality has been accused of protecting the chemical industry it regulates. The agency is facing cutbacks as new plants are slated for communities that already have some of the country’s most toxic air.”

“Five years ago, the owners of the Noranda Alumina plant on the border of St. John and St. James parishes in Louisiana discovered a big problem: They were emitting more than half a ton of mercury, a heavy metal that is toxic to humans and animals even in trace amounts, into the air each year. And the plant had likely been doing it for decades, in violation of its permit.

Plant officials, as required, alerted the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Then they asked for permission to keep doing what they had been doing.

The DEQ in late 2017 granted the request, giving Noranda a permit that allowed it to send 1,500 pounds of mercury into the air each year — a bit more than the plant’s owners estimated it had already been emitting. The permit called for the company to reduce that, over five years, to a maximum of 1,200 pounds.”

Gordon Russell reports for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Advocate via ProPublica's Local Reporting Network December 19, 2019.