West Virginia, Kansas, Texas Lead U.S. In Worst Refinery Performance

November 20, 1995

(20 November, 1995 — Washington, DC) A state-by-state ranking of the performance of oil refineries shows West Virginia among the top toxic chemical polluters, followed by Kansas, Texas, and Mississippi. The state of New Jersey, which has more extensive toxic chemical reporting requirements, ranked among the best. The ranking is part of a comprehensive study, “Ranking Refineries,” released today by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Oil refineries use and release toxic chemicals that can harm human health and the environment. An average-sized refinery releases over 10,000 gallons of waste daily to air, water and land, not including accidents. Refinery waste includes benzene, a known carcinogen (reported by virtually all refineries); toluene, which may cause central nervous system dysfunctions; xylene, a neurotoxin that may also cause respiratory problems; and heavy metals such as mercury, which harm ecosystems.

“The report shows that some states and refineries do a much better job of protecting public health per barrel of oil refined,” said Lois Epstein, an EDF engineer and principal author of the report. “The public should advocate for improvements in weaker facilities and states. Congress should strengthen, not undercut, minimum requirements for states to protect citizens from toxic releases, and not provide any special exemptions for the oil industry. If key protections are weakened, some states could become ‘pollution havens,’ not unlike certain developing countries.”

The report makes 23 recommendations for improvements, including accounting for chemicals brought into refineries as well as those released as pollution (such as in New Jersey); creating an industry-developed guide to help ensure consistency in right-to-know reporting; and reducing refinery pollution at the source (e.g., with frequent leak detection and repair, better roofs and seals on aboveground tanks, and increased energy efficiency in the refining process), including improved source reduction reporting under the federal right-to-know law.

“Ranking Refineries” uses data reported by refineries to the 1992 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) computer database, created under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The study also lists the most and least polluting refineries using several measures of efficiency, as well as refineries that did not report to TRI in 1992.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a leading, national, NY- based nonprofit organization, represents 300,000 members. EDF links science, economics, and law to create innovative, economically viable solutions to today’s environmental problems.