EPA Takes Important Action to Cut Petrochemical Pollution and Protect Public Health

April 9, 2024
Lexi Ambrogi, (973) 960-0073, lambrogi@edf.org

(WASHINGTON – April 9, 2024) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced stronger rules to limit toxic pollution from petrochemical plants. The new rules include vital measures to protect the health and safety of communities on the fenceline of this pollution.

The updated standards mark important progress to establish foundational protections that will reduce toxic petrochemical pollution, protect public health and save lives. The standards, commonly known as the Hazardous Organic NESHAP, or HON Rule, apply to more than 200 industrial facilities across the country and focus on limiting six of EPA’s high priority chemicals of concern, all of which are known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health problems.

“Everyone has the right to breathe clean air, but for far too long, communities on the fenceline of the petrochemical industry have been exposed to pollution that threatens their health,” said Dionne Delli-Gatti, associate vice president for Community Engagement at Environmental Defense Fund. “EPA’s stronger standards can help keep communities safe from toxic air pollution. It’s essential that these protections are rigorously enforced and that leaders at all levels of government continue to work together to address health threats from petrochemical polluters so that all communities can thrive.”

The fossil fuel industry is increasingly pivoting to petrochemicals, which are derived from fossil fuels and used to make plastics, pesticides and other industrial chemicals. Pollution from petrochemical operations poses a serious threat to nearby communities, and EPA’s action today establishes foundational protections that will help deliver vital health benefits.

The updated standards are expected to slash more than 6,000 tons of air toxics each year and reduce air toxics-related cancer risks by 96% in the communities where these facilities operate, according to EPA estimates. The standards will also cut approximately 23,000 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds annually, delivering $690 million in benefits.

Key provisions in the new standards include stronger controls on toxic air emissions, additional air quality monitoring at the facility fenceline for EPA’s six high priority chemicals, stronger protections against pollution from flaring and action to close the loophole that allows facilities to pollute during periods of startup, shutdown and malfunction (SSM).

EPA’s action today to close the SSM loophole is especially significant, as more frequent and intense storms fueled by climate change are driving greater risks of chemical disasters at these facilities.

The updated standards can also help advance environmental justice for communities on the fenceline of these facilities, especially in Texas and Louisiana, where many petrochemical facilities are located. Communities of color are more exposed than others to toxic petrochemical pollution, and this trend has significantly worsened for Latino communities in the U.S. over the past two decades.

Stronger protections and ensuring rigorous compliance is likewise urgently needed given the petrochemical industry’s demonstrated history of violating environmental laws: over 80% of HON Rule facilities were noncompliant with existing laws at some point in the last three years, according to EDF analysis.

EDF joined other environmental organizations in submitting comments to EPA in support of a strong final HON Rule when the agency first proposed the updates last year.

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