Environmental Protection Agency limits pollution from chemical plants

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By journalsofus.com

More than 200 chemical plants across the country will be required to curb the toxic pollutants they release into the air under a regulation announced by the Biden administration on Tuesday.

The regulation aims to reduce the risk of cancer for people living near industrial areas. This is the first time in nearly two decades that the government has tightened limits on pollution from chemical plants.

The new rule, from the Environmental Protection Agency, specifically targets ethylene oxide, which is used to sterilize medical devices, and chloroprene, which is used to make rubber in footwear.

The EPA has classified the two chemicals as probable carcinogens. They are considered a major health problem in an area of ​​Louisiana so dense with petrochemical and refinery plants that it is known as Cancer Alley.

Most of the facilities affected by the rule are in Texas, Louisiana and other locations along the Gulf Coast, as well as in the Ohio River Valley and West Virginia. Communities near the plants tend to be disproportionately black or Latino and have high rates of cancer, respiratory problems and premature deaths.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan traveled last year to St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana, the heart of Cancer Alley, to announce his agency’s intention to limit plant contamination.

In a phone call with reporters on Monday, Regan recalled being shocked by the concentration of chemical plants and the way they had affected families for decades. “I saw first-hand how the multi-generational and widespread effects of pollution were affecting the health of the local community,” Mr Regan said.

It said the rule would reduce toxic pollutants by 6,200 tons a year and reduce emissions of ethylene oxide and chloroprene by 80 percent.

Under the rule, chemical manufacturers must monitor vents and storage tanks for emissions of ethylene oxide and chloroprene and plug any leaks.

Plants will also be required to reduce emissions of four other toxic chemicals: benzene, which is used in motor fuels as well as oils and paints; 1,3-butadiene, which is used to make rubber and synthetic plastics; and ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride, which are used to make a variety of plastics and vinyl products.

One year after monitoring begins, facilities will be required to submit quarterly data to EPA. The data will be made public so communities can understand the risks they face.

Patrice Simms, vice president of healthy communities litigation at Earthjustice, an environmental group, said it was impossible to overstate the importance of the new regulation for families living next to large polluting facilities.

“In a very real sense, this is a matter of life and death,” he said.

Mr. Regan has made it a priority to address the environmental hazards confronts communities surrounding industrial sites, but its efforts have run into significant obstacles.

In 2022, in response to complaints from Louisiana residents, the EPA launched an investigation to determine whether the state had violated civil rights laws by allowing dozens of industrial facilities to operate in St. John the Baptist Parish and its surroundings, a predominantly black community. Title VI of the Clean Air Act allows EPA to investigate whether state programs that receive federal money discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

But Louisiana sued the EPA, arguing that the federal government could only enforce the Civil Rights Act in cases where state policies were explicitly discriminatory. The EPA ended the investigation last year, but the state continued its legal challenge. In January, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled in favor of the state.

The new chemical rule is widely seen as part of the EPA’s effort to find ways to rein in polluting plants despite the setback. On Monday, Regan insisted the rule was not related to the civil rights case.

“As administrator, what I have committed to doing is using every single tool in our toolbox to do everything we can to protect these frontline communities,” he said.

Last month, the EPA finalized separate standards requiring plants that sterilize medical equipment and other facilities that use ethylene oxide to install pollution controls to reduce their emissions.

Republicans and industry groups said the rule announced Tuesday was burdensome and questioned the EPA’s scientific evaluation of the chemicals.

“EPA should not move forward with this rulemaking based on current history because significant scientific uncertainty remains,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to the agency.

One company that will be affected by the new rule is Denka Performance Elastomer, a synthetic products manufacturer in Laplace, Louisiana. Air monitoring near the plant has consistently shown chloroprene levels of up to 15 times the recommended concentration considered safe over a lifetime of exposure, according to the EPA, saying the company’s plant posed an “imminent and substantial danger to health.” public health and welfare,” the agency sued Denka last year, seeking to force it to reduce its chloroprene emissions.

The company said concentrations of the chemical were far below what would constitute a public health emergency. It also said it had significantly reduced its chemical emissions since 2015.

In a statement, Denka called the new rule “draconian.” He said the requirements would force the company to “idle its operations at tremendous cost and risk to its hundreds of dedicated employees.”

The company said it intended to challenge the rule in court.

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