EPA Agrees to Regulate Chemical Manufacturers’ Toxic Air Pollution

Chemical manufacturers expose millions of people to harmful air pollution, like cancer-causing ethylene oxide


Zahra Ahmad, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to review air toxic standards for chemical manufacturing area sources and propose a new rule in November 2024. The agency must publish a final rule in September 2025.

There are over 1,700 chemical manufacturing area source facilities emitting dangerous air pollution, such as carcinogenic ethylene oxide, into communities throughout the U.S. EPA last updated the air toxics standards for chemical manufacturing area sources in 2009, and those standards have significant shortcomings. Most notably, the current standards fail to regulate ethylene oxide emissions and only cover 450 facilities — leaving most facilities unregulated.

“Chemical manufacturing area sources are contributing to a public health crisis caused by air pollution,” said Earthjustice Attorney Kathleen Riley. “This is necessary to combat the crisis as it may regulate thousands of toxic air pollution sources. Millions of people in the U.S. have a right to breathe clean air.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review and revise its emission standards “as necessary” at least every eight years. Revised standards for chemical manufacturing area sources are over six years overdue. Because of this delay, Earthjustice sued EPA on behalf of nine community and advocacy organizations in May 2022.

This lawsuit also followed several reports by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General urging the agency to review and update the health risk and technology-based standards for plants that emit ethylene oxide or chloroprene, pointing out the excess cancer risks these facilities cause for communities. Although the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to evaluate the health risks — specifically the cancer risk — of major source categories and to set standards that reduce those risks below “unacceptable” risk levels, the EPA has the discretion not to conduct risk reviews for area sources. The EPA has never conducted a risk review of chemical manufacturing area sources.

Earthjustice and the community and advocacy organizations it represents have called on the EPA to consider specific improvements to its current chemical manufacturing area sources rule. These include fenceline monitoring, improved flare standards, and removing unlawful malfunction loopholes. Advocates also want the EPA to expand the rule to cover chemical manufacturing area sources, including those releasing carcinogenic ethylene oxide and other high-risk pollutants. In setting new standards for ethylene oxide emissions, EPA must set the most stringent requirements — Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) — and conduct a full risk review of the standards to ensure that no communities are experiencing unacceptable cancer risk.

Earthjustice clients include California Communities Against Toxics, Clean Air Council, Clean Power Lake County, Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice, Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, Kentucky Resources Council, New Castle Prevention Coalition, United Congregations of Metro-East, and Sierra Club.

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