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High cancer risk plagues Louisiana town near chemical plants

High cancer risk plagues Louisiana town
High cancer risk plagues Louisiana town near chemical plants 03:23

Reserve, Louisiana — In a Louisiana town of 10,000 people, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said there is some of the most toxic air in America. More than 100 petrochemical plants and refineries dot the corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, often referred to as "cancer alley."

The town of Reserve is right in the middle of it, and the cancer risk there is almost 50 times the national average, according to the EPA.

Robert Taylor has lived there most of his 78 years. Even his family cemetery is surrounded by a refinery. He said his mom, sister, uncle and nephew all died of cancer. 

"As I stand here, it's overwhelming to me. All of my folks are here. I will eventually wind up here," he said.
For decades, people in Reserve have had health problems ranging from dizziness and severe headaches to liver and lung cancer. Many believe a plant, hundreds of yards from some of their homes, is the source.

The Denka Performance Elastomer plant, owned by DuPont until 2015, makes chloroprene, a chemical the EPA calls a "likely human carcinogen." Denka is the only plant in the country producing it.

The Denka Performance Elastomer plant CBS News

In a new study obtained first by CBS News, the University Network for Human Rights found actual cancer rates surrounding Denka are higher than expected. Those living in homes surveyed within a mile of the plant had cancer rates of nearly 7%. Go a half mile farther away and the cancer rate drops significantly, by almost 40%.

Denka said it hasn't had the opportunity to see the new study and cites a state tumor registry that does not show a cancer increase in Reserve. The company said the EPA's chloroprene concerns are "based on faulty science," resulting in a "dramatically inflated risk factor."

Taylor said he's concerned about children in the community. "What really drove us was the fact that we've got a school right here, with 400 to 500 black children in it, 1,500 feet from the fence line," Taylor said.

Why live in a town with a high cancer risk? 02:01

Taylor is a lead plaintiff in a suit against Denka. He recently took his fight 7,000 miles to Denka's headquarters in Tokyo. CBS News was there as his team tried to confront company executives. They were turned away. Denka later told them they couldn't meet because of pending litigation.

"They demonstrated to us, today that they don't care about what's happening to the people in Reserve, Louisiana," Taylor said.

He said he shouldn't have to move.

"Why should I move? How can I move?" he said. "I struggled all my life to build this. Here's the American dream, to own your own home. Right now, in good conscience, who would I actually sell this house to? What poor, unsuspecting family would I trick into moving into this death trap?"

Read the full report from the University Network for Human Rights below. 

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