Skip to main content
February 25, 2022

EPA agrees to update rules for cancer-causing chemical plants

Victory: Community groups call for fenceline monitoring, removal of unlawful pollution loopholes  

Contacts

Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice Press Secretary, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Washington, D.C.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to update pollution rules for some of the most hazardous chemical manufacturers, including facilities that emit the potent carcinogen ethylene oxide. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by seven community and advocacy groups in December of 2020. A federal court in D.C., this week entered a consent decree that binds EPA to begin this new rulemaking in 2022 and issue a new final rule no later than spring 2024.

EPA will update the rules for more than 200 facilities in the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturing Industry, or SOCMI, a category of plants that include some of the biggest known emitters of ethylene oxide, chloroprene, and other harmful air toxics. SOCMI plants are especially concentrated in Texas and Louisiana. They disproportionately affect Black, Latino, and low-income communities. Other states with SOCMI facilities include West Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio.

“We applaud EPA for finally committing to update air toxics standards for chemical and petrochemical plants and address the plants’ unacceptable health risk, including from ethylene oxide emissions,” said Kathleen Riley, Earthjustice attorney. “Communities living and working near these facilities have been waiting far too long for EPA action. They will accept nothing less than a strong, health-protective rule from an administration that has promised to address environmental justice.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review and revise its emission standards “as necessary” at least every eight years, but EPA hasn’t done so for SOCMI in over fifteen years. All while communities suffered from excess cancer-causing pollution. Communities urge EPA to include fenceline monitoring in the new rule and remove so-called malfunction loopholes that industry uses to circumvent pollution limits.

“We’ve been highlighting the dangers of petrochemical facilities like the proposed massive Formosa Plastics complex for years. It’s important that EPA is finally recognizing the need to review and update the national rules for this type of toxic facility, that are far too weak and fail to protect public health,” said Sharon Lavigne with RISE St. James. “This action is another reason why Formosa Plastics should not be allowed to go forward and should be stopped immediately. People in St. James are already ill and dying from pollution, and we will be urging EPA to issue robust new rules that protect our community’s health once and for all.”

In the spring 2021, the Office of Inspector General urged EPA to review and update the health risk and technology-based standards for plants that emit ethylene oxide or chloroprene. EPA has never evaluated the full health risks from SOCMI facilities, because the last rulemaking took place before EPA’s 2016 finding that the cancer risk from ethylene oxide is much more severe than previously understood. EPA’s health risk assessment approach is outdated and needs reform to follow science and advance environmental justice.

“Requiring EPA to comply with its statutory duties to review and update these standards in an important step for the health of fenceline communities, who must daily live with the toxic air spewed by petrochemical facilities in the Gulf and other parts of the country,” said Patton Dycus, senior attorney with Environmental Integrity Project.

Communities need stronger air toxics rules, as industry groups have proposed massive new petrochemical complexes like Formosa Plastics in St. James Parish, Louisiana, to take advantage of current weak national rules.

“Significant air pollution reductions by EPA will improve the air quality for fenceline environmental justice communities living next to industrial chemical facilities,” said Wilma Subra with Louisiana Environmental Action Network. “Long term exposure has brought dire health impacts to communities, which deserve to be able to breathe clean air. This is the case particularly for community members living in heavy industrial facility areas in Louisiana and Texas.”

“Actions by EPA to reduce the significant air pollution being emitted into frontline Environmental Justice communities from the chemical manufacturing sector are long overdue,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team. “Protecting frontline communities hosting these facilities is an essential part of any strategy to address environmental justice by the Biden-Harris administration in any meaningful and direct way.”

“For years communities in the Houston Ship Channel have faced unacceptable cumulative impacts to our health from these chemical plants’ toxic air pollution, combined with other hazardous sources EPA has a responsibility to protect us from,” said Juan Parras, with t.e.j.a.s. “It’s a relief that EPA is finally recognizing the need to act on these standards. Now we’re looking for EPA to follow through with strong new protections that end dangerous malfunction loopholes, include fenceline monitoring for toxic pollutants like ethylene oxide, and use the agency’s full legal power under the Clean Air Act so we can finally breathe clean air.”

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to update pollution rules for some of the most hazardous chemical manufacturers, including facilities that emit the potent carcinogen ethylene oxide. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by seven community and advocacy groups in December of 2020. A federal court in D.C., this week entered a consent decree that binds EPA to begin this new rulemaking in 2022 and issue a new final rule no later than spring 2024.

Earthjustice represents Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services; California Communities Against Toxics; Louisiana Environmental Action Network; Rise St. James; and Sierra Club. The Environmental Integrity Project represents itself in this matter.

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.