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An exploration of the toxic nature of wetsuits.

About Neoprene

The Big Sea: an exploration of the toxic nature of wetsuits, the true human cost of Neoprene production and surfing’s links to Cancer Alley.

The Big Sea: an exploration of the toxic nature of wetsuits, the true human cost of Neoprene production and surfing’s links to Cancer Alley.

The vast majority of wetsuits on sale today are made of a synthetic rubber called Neoprene. Neoprene – the commercial name for chloroprene rubber – is the product of a toxic, carcinogenic chemical process.

There is only one chloroprene plant in the US. It is owned by Japanese chemical company Denka and lies in the predominantly black, low income town of Reserve, Louisiana – in the heart of an area known as Cancer Alley. Rising from the site of a former plantation, the Denka chloroprene plant casts a long shadow over St John’s Parish.

No home in the community around plant has been untouched by cancer. It has the highest cancer risk in the USA – 50 TIMES the national average. The EPA acknowledges the high cancer risk is due to chloroprene emissions from the plant.

Neoprene has been an integral part of the surf lifestyle, granting access to previously unridden realms and helping many forge a greater connection with the ocean environment. However, confronted with these shocking facts, and with a greener alternative readily available, will the $2820 million wetsuit industry clean up its act and end its toxic relationship with Neoprene?

The Facts

Neoprene was invented in 1931 by Dupont. This synthetic chloroprene rubber was christened Duprene, later changed to Neoprene.

The Denka Pontchartrain Works – opened 1968 – sits on the site of the former Belle Pointe plantation where 150 slaves worked the land.

The Denka plant sits in the heart of a region known as Cancer Alley.

Cancer Alley is a corridor, approximately five miles wide along the banks of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans where almost 200 large petrochemical facilities are located.

2015 the EPA National Air Toxins Assessment comes out – the area around the Denka plant has the worst cancer risk in the whole of the US due to chloroprene pollution from Denka.

If you live in Long Beach San Francisco – the EPA NATA cancer risk is 23 in a million.

In St Johns, Reserve the risk is 1505 in a million – 50 times the national average.

The majority of Neoprene used in wetsuits comes from Denka – either their Pontchartrain Works in Cancer Alley, or from their plant in Japan that manufactures so called Limestone Neoprene.

So called ‘Limestone’ chloroprene rubber is made by melting Limestone in an electric furnace at over two thousand degrees, which is then processed into chloroprene. The Japanese government does not monitor and no public records are kept on chloroprene emissions at the Denka plant in Omi, Japan.

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