Energy & Environment

Report finds 10 oil refineries with benzene above EPA’s ‘action level’

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Ten oil refineries had levels of the pollutant benzene that were above the government’s “action level” at their fence lines as of September of last year, according to a new report. 

Refineries are required to monitor benzene concentrations around their fence line or perimeter and if their concentration exceeds the action level, they are required to “implement corrective measures.” 

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) examined the monitoring reports of more than 100 refineries and identified 10 whose fence line benzene levels were higher than the EPA’s “action level” as of the third quarter of 2019. 

The report, published early Thursday, identified the 10 facilities, six of which were in Texas.

“Benzene can affect the human blood system and increase the risk of cancer. Benzene is classified as a known human carcinogen, with the potential to cause leukemia,” the report said. 

The refinery found to have the highest benzene concentration level, Philadelphia Energy Solutions in Pennsylvania, had a benzene level that was 444 percent greater than the EPA’s action level, according to the report. 

Other refineries identified as having some of the highest levels were the HollyFrontier Navajo Artesia in New Mexico and the Total Port Arthur Refinery in Texas. 
A spokesperson for Total told The Hill in an email that the refinery has a “robust monitoring system in place to assist us in identifying the source of an emission, investigating its cause and implementing corrective actions.”
“We are committed to comply with EPA rules. We take seriously our responsibility to reduce our environmental footprint,” the spokesperson added. “Our refinery employees live and have families in this community, and the Total Port Arthur Refinery works hard at being a good neighbor.” 

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association said in a statement that “as soon as problems were detected corrections were made and in many cases, if not all, measures reduced to below action levels shortly thereafter.”

An EPA spokesperson stressed in a statement to The Hill that the benzene levels measured at a refinery’s perimeter do not reflect the levels of the pollutant in the community.

“The actual exposure to benzene in nearby communities can vary from the concentrations measured at a refinery’s fenceline, depending on multiple factors that include emissions from nearby non-refinery sources (which may include motor vehicles and chemical plants), weather conditions and wind direction,” the spokesperson said

“The federal action level is intended as a benchmark to flag when emissions are higher than expected, so that facilities can look for the cause and take early action. The federal action level is not based on an analysis of risk levels to the community—but rather on emissions from the facility,” the person added.

— Updated at 6:08 p.m.

Tags Benzene

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