Environment

Louisville’s air pollution regulators have extended the public comment period for a permit that would allow new construction at a chemical company with a history of environmental violations. 

The Louisville-based Clariant Corp. applied for a permit to replace older equipment used to manufacture products that accelerate chemical reactions at its facility in the Park Hill neighborhood. 

The Louisville Air Pollution Control District received nearly 150 comments on the permit application after WFPL News reported in late July the revisions would allow the company to make modifications that slightly increase the cancer risk for the surrounding neighborhoods. 

The comment period now runs through Sept. 14. The district also plans to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 at the Centennial Room at the Louisville Free Public Library downtown.

Initially, regulators with the Air Pollution Control District told the public the new equipment would slightly increase the cancer risk in the surrounding community from about 1.3 to 2.07 in a million. 

However, the district revised its calculation in early August and now says the new equipment would only increase the cancer risk by about one-tenth of the previous risk, from 1.3 to 1.41 in a million.

That means, if 1 million people were exposed to this concentration continuously for 70 years, approximately one of them would likely contract cancer from this exposure, based on APCD’s cancer risk assessment. 

The Air Pollution Control District told the public it revised the risk following a technical review of the permit application. In a follow-up email to WFPL News, an APCD spokesperson said regulators mistakenly listed the worst-case risk for each piece of equipment, but that is not allowed by permit. 

The revision more closely aligns with Clariant’s own calculations for the estimated cancer risk for the surrounding neighborhood. A company spokesperson told WFPL News that annual emissions will continue to meet regulators’ risk goal of 1 in 1 million.

Around 15,000 people live within 1 mile of Clariant’s plant in Park Hill. Nearly two-thirds of those who live in the area are Black. At least 68% percent of nearby residents qualify as low-income.

Toxic air emissions from Clariant’s facility in the Park Hill neighborhood pose the highest human health risk of the 89 facilities that release toxic pollution in Jefferson County, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Clariant has paid $558,000 in fines over the last seven years for nearly a dozen environmental violations. But regulators say they cannot use that history to prevent the company from receiving a permit because the business continues to pay its fine and remedy its violations. 

The public can use the comment period to weigh in on mistakes regulators might have made in calculating pollution limits or any other problems found in the permit. However, regulators told WFPL News they recognize that this can be complicated for people not familiar with the intricacies of industrial air pollution. 

Nonetheless, they say public comments can inform future discussions on emissions limits and would be permanently included in the public record. 

The Air Pollution Control District regulates Clariant and other companies that emit toxic pollution through the Strategic Toxic Air Reduction program known as STAR. That program has reduced toxic air pollution in Louisville by about 70% since its inception in 2005, according to APCD. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.