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5 refineries in Texas, including Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay refinery, are polluted above the federal limit for benzene, report found

Five refineries in Texas exceeded federal pollution limits for the cancer-causing chemical benzene in 2021, according to an Environmental Integrity Project analysis of refiners’ self-reported data to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA classifies benzene as a human carcinogen, and long-term exposure to benzene emissions has resulted in blood disorders. There is evidence that benzene exposure is associated with damage to reproductive organs and fetuses.

According to the analysis, a dozen US refineries exceeded the EPA limit for average benzene emissions last year.

The video above is from a previous report.

In Texas, Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay Refinery, TotalEnergies’ Port Arthur Refinery, Chevron’s Pasadena Refinery, Flint Hills Resources’ Corpus Christi East Refinery and LyondellBasell’s Houston Refinery reported average 2021 benzene emissions above the federal limit of 9 micrograms per cubic meter.

Several refineries exceed the limits for carcinogenic pollutants

In 2021, a dozen U.S. refiners reported average benzene emission levels that exceeded the federal limit of 9.0 micrograms per cubic meter. Five refineries were located in Texas.

The EPA began collecting hazardous air pollution data from refineries in 2018 after the agency updated an air quality regulation in response to a lawsuit from environmental groups. The update called for more than 100 US refiners to monitor and report benzene levels along the boundaries of their facilities and make corrections when those levels are too high.

The data shows that benzene pollution at some refineries has worsened over time. Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay refinery in Texas City had the highest average benzene levels in the country last year, with emissions more than double the federal limits. The refinery’s average benzene concentrations have steadily increased each year since 2018, when the EPA began collecting data. According to EPA data, approximately 37,000 people live within 3 miles of the refinery, and approximately 62% of them are black.

Marathon Petroleum spokeswoman Melissa Ory wrote in a statement that the Galveston Bay refinery is making efforts to reduce benzene emissions, for example by stepping up tank inspections and shutting down two process units that contained benzene.

Each of the five Texas refineries that exceeded benzene pollution limits in the past year saw emissions increase as of 2020.

EPA regulations require facilities to collect air samples at the border of their refineries every two weeks, and the highest benzene concentrations from each of the 26 two-week periods in a year are averaged for a rolling annual metric. If that average exceeds 9 micrograms per cubic meter for two consecutive quarters, the EPA requires facilities to submit an emissions reduction plan.

However, the public health risk from the pollution depends on how long airborne levels of the chemical remained at elevated levels and whether those emissions drifted into nearby neighborhoods. Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a DC-based nonprofit environmental and legal group, said this means the EPA is not requiring companies to respond quickly enough. Schaeffer added that the action plans don’t require refiners to do enough.

“We have facilities that are above the action level every year,” he said. “It’s been four years now for some of these facilities, so whatever they’re doing isn’t enough. EPA could get them to do more.”

An EPA spokesman said the agency could not comment on the measures it has taken to reduce benzene emissions at its non-compliant Texas facilities until the time the Texas Tribune story was published.

Community and environmentalists in Texas said the data shows again how gated neighborhoods — mostly communities of color due to segregated heritage — bear the brunt of the oil and gas industry’s cancer-causing emissions.

“This only confirms what we already know,” John Beard, the executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, said in a statement. He pointed out that Port Arthur is known to have elevated rates of cancer. According to the Texas Cancer Registry, the Port Arthur-Beaumont metro area had 452 cancer cases per 100,000 residents in 2018, a rate that exceeded the state average by 11%.

“Benzene emissions are hazardous to life and health,” Beard said.

When the EPA was developing the rule requiring refiners to report benzene emissions, the agency’s analysis found that communities near the refinery boundary line had almost twice as many low-income and minority people as the general US population.

According to the EPA, more than 6 million people in the US live within 3 miles of an oil refinery.

The increase in benzene emissions in 2021 could be due to increased production over the past year as the oil and gas industry rebounded from pandemic disruptions in 2020. In addition, Marathon Petroleum, Flint Hills Resources and TotalEnergies said the increase in emissions at their facilities was due to operational disruptions during the February 2021 winter storm.

RELATED: LyondellBasell to Close Houston Refinery by the End of 2023

Some companies also said benzene emissions from refineries have fallen below the federal limit since late 2021. Jake Reint, a spokesman for Flint Hills Resources, said the refinery’s annual moving average benzene emissions have been below 9 micrograms per cubic meter since March 2022 and that the facility is investigating any sample result that exceeds the EPA limit.

“Monitoring for continuous leak detection allows us to detect and react to even small leaks more quickly,” said Reint. “We have also recently eliminated a source of occasional benzene emissions associated with loading ships in the ship canal.”

TotalEnergies spokeswoman Marie Maitre also said the company’s Port Arthur facility has been below the EPA limit for the past six months. Maitre said the company invested $1.2 million in projects last year to reduce benzene emissions at the plant.

A Chevron spokesman, Rajni Yadav, said benzene emissions from the Pasadena refinery have also been below the federal limit since mid-April.

LyondellBasell, which owns Houston Refining, did not respond to a request for comment as of the publication of this story.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

https://abc13.com/texas-refineries-benzene-detection-carcinogen-detected-cancer-causing-chemical-marathon-petroleum/11841535/ 5 refineries in Texas, including Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay refinery, are polluted above the federal limit for benzene, report found

Dais Johnston

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