Stronger Clean Air Standards for Chemical Plants that emit ethylene oxide and chloroprene

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Final rule will reduce the number of people with elevated cancer risk by 96% in communities near plants that emit ethylene oxide and chloroprene.

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WASHINGTON – Today, April 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule that will significantly reduce toxic air pollution from chemical plants, including ethylene oxide and chloroprene. EPA’s action will advance President Biden’s commitment to environmental justice by slashing more than 6,200 tons of toxic air pollution each year, dramatically reducing the number of people with elevated cancer risk due to toxic air pollution in communities surrounding plants covered by the rule. Once implemented, the rule will reduce both EtO and chloroprene emissions from covered processes and equipment by nearly 80%. A requirement for these facilities to conduct fenceline monitoring for key toxic chemicals is included, and EPA will make the data publicly available to better inform and safeguard nearby communities.

Today’s action is the latest in recent weeks to protect communities from EtO pollution, following a final rule to dramatically reduce EtO emissions from commercial sterilization facilities. Both rules advance the Biden Cancer Moonshot, a commitment to ending cancer as we know it, while advancing environmental justice in communities overburdened by toxic chemicals.

Today’s final rule delivers critical health protections for communities that Administrator Michael Regan visited as part of his Journey to Justice tour.

“President Biden believes every community in this country deserves to breathe clean air. That’s why I took the Journey to Justice tour to communities like St. John the Baptist Parish, where residents have borne the brunt of toxic air for far too long,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “We promised to listen to folks that are suffering from pollution and act to protect them. Today we deliver on that promise with strong final standards to slash pollution, reduce cancer risk, and ensure cleaner air for nearby communities.”

“By issuing strong clean air standards and requiring companies to monitor pollution at the fenceline, the Biden-Harris Administration is protecting communities from toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and ensuring people know what is in their air. This critical step advances President Biden’s commitment to environmental justice for overburdened communities and will help keep children safe from toxic chemical exposure,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory.

“This announcement is a monumental step towards safeguarding public health and the environment. By slashing over 6,200 tons of toxic air pollutants annually and implementing fenceline monitoring, this addresses health risks in surrounding communities and promotes environmental justice in states like Louisiana. With a substantial reduction of nearly 80% in emissions from covered sources, this is a significant stride towards protecting current and future generations from the harmful effects of these carcinogenic chemicals and demonstrates a path forward for communities and industry to coexist,” said Congressman Troy A. Carter, Sr. (LA-02).

“Today marks a victory in the pursuit for environmental justice, with the final rule poised to significantly reduce the toxic air pollution that harms communities in Texas’s Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, and throughout the U.S.,” said Earthjustice Vice President for Healthy Communities Patrice Simms. “Setting protective air standards for over 200 chemical plants and requiring fenceline monitoring for some of the most toxic emissions shows a commitment to protecting public health. We look forward to the EPA’s swift implementation and rigorous enforcement of this critical rule.”

Today’s action applies to certain equipment and processes at about 200 plants that make synthetic organic chemicals and a variety of polymers and resins, including neoprene. Once implemented, it will reduce both EtO and chloroprene emissions from covered processes and equipment by nearly 80%. Long-term exposure to these two chemicals can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer and liver cancer. EPA also expects the rule to better protect children, who are more exposed and more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals including EtO and chloroprene.

The rule also reduces additional air toxics, such as benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. By cutting emissions of these chemicals, the rule will reduce the risks of developing cancer from breathing in toxic air pollutants. In addition, the rule will reduce smog-forming volatile organic compounds by 23,700 tons a year.

The final rule will provide critical public health protections for overburdened communities near covered plants. When EPA proposed the rule, it conducted a first-of-its-kind community risk assessment to provide the public with the best possible information about existing health risks from air toxics exposure and how the proposal would affect them. That assessment examined the air toxics-related risks from all large facilities in communities within about six miles of the plants – including facilities that would not be covered by the rule – to provide a more complete picture of the air toxics-related risk in these communities. The assessment showed that the rule would reduce the number of people who have elevated air toxics-related cancer risk by 96% in those communities – and the final delivers those reductions.

Requirements in the final rule are largely the same as what EPA proposed. However, the agency made several changes to proposed requirements in response to public comments.

The final rule includes a fenceline monitoring requirements for covered processes and equipment that make, use, store or emit EtO, chloroprene, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride or vinyl chloride, as proposed, but modifies the compliance deadlines to implement these requirements. EPA had proposed to require monitoring to begin one year after the effective date of the rule. For fenceline monitoring at synthetic organic chemical manufacturing plants, the agency is setting a deadline of two years in response to comments that facilities and laboratories need additional preparation time to begin the monitoring programs. For neoprene production sources, EPA is setting a 90-day deadline for beginning fenceline monitoring of chloroprene emissions.

For all six pollutants, owners and operators must find the source of the pollution and make repairs if annual average air concentrations of the chemicals are higher than a specified action level at the fenceline. The action levels vary depending on the chemical.

To ensure the results of fenceline monitoring are available to communities, EPA will make the monitoring data publicly available on its WebFIRE webpage. The fenceline monitoring provisions in the final rule are modeled on similar Clean Air Act requirements for petroleum refineries first established in 2015, which have been historically successful in identifying and reducing benzene emissions.

EPA is also working to reduce emissions from other sources of EtO, including from chemical plants that produce polyether polyols, and taking additional actions to address EtO emissions and advance EtO research, such as:

  • Investigating additional sources of EtO (e.g., stand-alone warehouses) and opportunities for emissions controls.
  • Enforcing existing regulations as appropriate.
  • Conducting research to better understand and measure EtO.