Sustainability Energy

More than a dozen US oil refineries released cancer-causing chemicals last year, far exceeding limits

Story at a glance

  • Thirteen U.S. oil refineries released concentrations of benzene in 2020 that exceeded federal limits.
  • Benzene is a cancer-causing chemical.
  • The EPA requires refineries to monitor the levels of air pollutants surrounding the factories and plants in an attempt to protect nearby communities.

New government data found that 13 U.S. oil refineries released benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, in concentrations that exceeded federal limits in 2020, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

Released on Wednesday, the Environmental Integrity Project study utilized data reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by U.S. refineries. This was the second year the EPA required refineries to monitor the levels of air pollutants surrounding the factories and plants in an attempt to protect nearby communities, which often are poor and predominantly Black and Hispanic.

“If the Biden EPA wants to act on its environmental justice promises, these neighborhoods near refineries are a great place to start,” Benjamin Kunstman, staff engineer at the Environmental Integrity Project, told Reuters.


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The report cited benzene levels that regularly exceeded the 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air standard, set by the EPA, found at eight of the 13 flagged refineries. When refineries are flagged for exceeding the threshold, it’s required that the company takes “corrective action” by the EPA.

The highest emitter of benzene in 2020 was Delek’s Krotz Springs, La., refinery, exceeding more than three times the level at an average of more than 31 micrograms per cubic meter.

A Delek spokesperson told Reuters, “Delek is focused on serving as a good steward of the environment and supportive member of the communities in which we operate.”

Another four flagged refineries were in Louisiana: PBF in Chalmette, Phillips 66 in Lake Charles, Phillips 66 in Alliance, and Shell Norco. Texas, meanwhile, had three: Total in Port Arthur, Marathon in Galveston Bay, and Citgo in Corpus Christi East.

The other refineries on the list were Philadelphia Energy Solutions facility in Philadelphia, Shell Chemical Mobile in Alabama, HollyFrontier Lovington and HollyFrontier Artesia in New Mexico, and Marathon Catlettsburg in Kentucky.

Phillips 66 stated, “We are dedicated to controlling emissions from our operations, and we take prompt action to investigate and implement corrective actions when and where needed.”

A spokesperson for Total said the company is in the process of working on projects “to control the sources we have identified which will allow those units to consistently run below the EPA action levels.”

A Marathon spokesperson, Jamal Kheiry, cited the higher emissions as a result of one of two one-time events last year.

Citgo said “excess emissions can occasionally occur” and that the cause of the exceeding emission had been found to stem from an offsite incident not involving the company.

The EPA has not issued a statement at this time.


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