According to a report by a national environmental nonprofit, four Louisiana refineries released the cancer-causing chemical at levels that were higher than federal limits last year.
The Environmental Integrity Project determined that PBF Energy’s Chalmette Refinery was in Chalmette, Valeros St. Charles refinery in Norco, and the Shell Norco Manufacturing Complex were emitting more than 9 micrograms of benzene per cubic meter at their fencelines by 2021.
The Environmental Protection Agency considers benzene a carcinogen. This gaseous compound is found in gasoline, and other petroleum products. It is well-known to cause nervous system damage, immune system damage, and leukemia. Companies are required to create plans to reduce benzene omissions when they exceed the EPA’s 9 microgram limit.
The nonprofit found that six Louisiana refineries emit more than 3 micrograms of benzene per cubic meter at their fencelines. These include CITGO LCMC in Westlake; ExxoonMobil Refinery at Baton Rouge; Calumet Shriveport; Phillips 66 Alliance at Belle Chasse; Delek Refinery at Krotz Springs; Placid Refining at Port Allen.
Even though the lower benzene levels are not mentioned in EPA’s regulations, they still exceed a California emissions standard. It was based on research that links benzene to decreased blood cell counts and other negative effects in humans, researchers said.
The EPA also stated that every 100,000 people who have been exposed to benzene in their lifetimes is at risk of developing cancer. California health experts estimate that a lifetime exposure of 3 micrograms to benzene can lead to 8 new cases of cancer for every 100,000 people.
Eric Schaeffer (executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project) stated that the EPA and oil refining industries need to do more in order to reduce benzene emission. Because the concentrations at too many refineries can pose a danger to nearby communities, Eric Schaeffer said.
The EPA’s Regional 6 office, which oversees Louisiana’s environmental affairs, did not respond to a request for details on Thursday regarding whether companies cited in the report had submitted emission-reduction plans as required by regulations.
A spokesperson for Shell Norco said that the refinery was working closely with the EPA as well as the Department of Environmental QualityTo Reduce your emissions
Curtis Smith stated that the Shell Norco Manufacturing Complex Site actively monitors benzene emission at 35 stationary locations along its fenceline.Although most Shells emissions readings are lower than the EPAs limit,,He stated that there have been times when the fenceline emissions were elevated (dues to unit upsets), which has an impact on the wastewater system.
A Phillips 66 spokesperson said that Phillips was working closely with federal officials to reduce its emissions.
Schaeffer, the director of the nonprofit, is a former director for civil enforcement at the EPA. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, his group sued the EPA in 2012. Three years later, the agency changed its rules to require monitoring of fenceline benzene.
Schaeffer’s data were culled from fenceline emissions reports submitted to EPA by dozens if refineries across the country.
Schaffer noted that there are still some holes in the EPA’s new rules. They don’t require similar monitoring of benzene at chemical plants’ fencelines, which may be next to refineries. Emissions could be measured at refinery fenceline stations.
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Importantly, the rules do not require monitoring of emissions in neighboring communities which are often majority Black, Hispanic, or low-income.
The Chalmette Refinery is an example of these problems. It was ranked sixth on the list, with 12 refineries that violated the 9 microgram standard. In each of the four years that it has been monitoring fenceline, the company measured benzene at levels higher than the EPA action limit.
Its 2021 level averaged 12.6 micrograms. And the facility’s average long-term fenceline concentrations of the highest fenceline levels from 2018 to 2021 was 13.7 micrograms. The facility is located near other chemical plants and refineries that also emit benzene.
One or more fenceline monitors at the refinery detected concentrations of benzene higher than 29 micrograms per square meter for four weeks in 2021. This is the acute minimum risk level set by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
According to the EPA, 61% of people living within 3 Miles of the refinery are people who are of color and 41% have low income.
Chalmette announced Thursday that it is investing into new technology that will lower benzene omissions below the EPA limit. The Environmental Integrity Project’s report, however, inflates its benzene omissions.
The statement stated that the EPA’s action level at 9 micrograms per cubic meter does NOT indicate that there is a health threat to the public or that the community has high levels of benzene.
With 14.1 micrograms/cm2 in 2021, Valeros St. Charles refinery ranked fourth on the 12 highest emitters list. One fenceline monitor detected a concentration exceeding 29 micrograms/cm2 over two weeks. This is the level that is considered acute. Worse, the average reading of 300 micrograms/cm during the two-week monitoring period ended Sept. 6, 2021 after Hurricane Ida had disrupted the plants operations.
Schaeffer stated that this is very close to the level at which respirators should be worn by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That’s the kind exposure information that needs quickly to be released. These types of problems must be fixed not only for the long-term averages but also for the short-term spikes that can be very dangerous.
According to EPA, around 30% of residents within 3 Miles of the plant are people who are of color and 21% are low-income.
The record of Valeros in the past three years was significantly higher, with fenceline emissions measuring an average of 3 micrograms or lower.
The company did no respond to a request to comment on the report.
Marathons Galveston Bay/Texas City facility had the highest benzene emission in the country, reporting 37.8 micrograms in 2021. This is almost double the 2020 average of 19.6micrograms.
The average concentrations in the facility were greater than 29 micrograms over 18 weeks in 2021. The highest concentration was 275 milligrams in the two weeks ending October 13.
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