Corporate and city leaders need to address the higher health risk in Rubbertown

This chart illustrates the goals of the STAR Program and is from a presentation from the AIR Pollution Control District on an emission modification request from American Synthetic Rubber Company.

Everyone in the standing-room-only audience laughed.

Guillaume Coiraton, the plant manager of the American Synthetic Rubber Company, had just explained an illustration that showed the range of 1,3 butadiene emissions from the plant. He said the reach of this cancer-causing pollution is very small, barely reaching beyond the fence around the plant. He said that the emissions were not a problem for most people in West Louisville.

Coiraton started his presentation with pictures of smiling employees, green lawns and even a family of geese with the goslings in the foreground and the plant’s big tanks in the background. No one believed him when he said the exposure to butadiene emissions was minimal.

This was the second public hearing that the Air Pollution Control District has held on this topic. ASRC wants permission to increase emissions of 1,3 butadiene. The company claims that this is necessary despite their use of toxics best available technology to control emissions. Butadiene is linked with cancer and many other health problems. The Air Pollution Control District uses exposure modeling techniques to understand the risk of exposure. The exposure limits in the STAR program are expected to cause one cancer per million people over the course of 70 years. At the last public hearing on the ASRC request, a resident of Rubbertown testified about living near the plant, sharing that she had recently had surgery for thyroid cancer.

I attended both hearings and noticed a disconnect between two realities described in the meetings.

ASRC is a company operating in Louisville and emitting toxic chemicals, sometimes within legal limits and sometimes above those limits. The company, and the Air Pollution Control District, say that the risk of exposure is small and within legal limits.

Then, there are the people living and working in Rubbertown. They describe a day-to-day life that is not reflected in the official rules or in any exposure model. Resident and air activist Eboni Cochran spelled out the impact on daily life at the hearing. She called out the educational impact of kids missing school due to an asthma attack, the financial impact of a parent missing work to care for the child and the health impact of not being able to play and exercise outside due to air pollution.

Modeling the risk of exposure is a good way to write regulations to limit emissions. Modeling does not reflect the day-to-day experience of living in the neighborhood. The best models can estimate risk but they do not reflect the daily reality of smells and health issues.

We are asking these residents to take on a higher risk due to the operations of the American Synthetic Rubber plant. How can ASRC and the city recognize this additional risk? What about creating a community benefit fund to recognize this additional risk and balance these two realities?

Creating a community benefit fund would recognize the risk of exposure to butadiene. Providing these funds and giving control of this fund to residents would recognize this risk and give some measure of control to the people living in the neighborhood.

This approach also could make the dialogue between the Air Pollution Control District and Rubbertown residents more productive. Right now the decision is us or them, increased risk or current level of risk, corporation vs. citizens.

The ideal solution would be no risk at all – meaning the residents or ASRC would relocate. That option is not on the table.

A small step forward would be a community benefit fund that residents could use to find solutions to reduce the exposure risk. This specific action would recognize the increased risk of living next to a chemical plant, the increased risk that city leaders and ASRC are asking residents to accept.

A map of Rubbertown from an APCD presentation, “Ten Years Later: STAR and Louisville Air Toxics”

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