A dozen U.S. refineries exceeded the federal government’s limits for acceptable levels of benzene emissions last year. Of the refineries that violated the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) limit on acceptable levels of benzene emissions, five are located in Texas and four are in Louisiana.
According to data collected by the EPA, benzene pollution at some refineries has worsened over the years. Each of the five Texas refineries that exceeded the government threshold for benzene emissions recorded higher emissions in 2021 compared to 2020.
Benzene is a known human carcinogen, and long-term exposure to benzene emissions has been linked to blood disorders and cancers. There is also evidence tying benzene exposure to reproductive organ damage and harm to fetuses.
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What is the Federal Limit for Benzene Emissions?
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a threshold for benzene emission levels of nine micrograms per cubic meter. If this limit is exceeded, refineries are required to undertake a root cause analysis and take corrective action to reduce benzene emissions. The refineries that exceeded the EPA’s limit for benzene emissions reported levels as high as 19.8 micrograms per cubic meter.
According to the EPA, there is a new case of cancer among every 100,000 people exposed over their lifetimes to between 1.3 and 4.5 micrograms of benzene per cubic meter. Meanwhile, health experts in California estimate that three micrograms of exposure over a lifetime can result in eight new cancer cases for every 100,000 people.
What is Benzene?
Benzene is a chemical widely used in the U.S. to make a variety of products, including lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are then used to make plastics, nylon, synthetic fibers, and other items.
Both indoor and outdoor air contain low levels of benzene. Outside, benzene comes from tobacco smoke, gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions. Inside, benzene-containing products such as glue, paint, and detergents release the chemical into the environment.
What Risks are Associated with Benzene Exposure?
Benzene causes cells to not work properly. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause red blood cells to drop, which can lead to anemia. Another potential effect of benzene exposure is excessive bleeding and damage to the immune system, which increases the risk of infection.
- Irregular menstrual periods in women and a decrease in the size of the ovaries.
- Cancer in humans, as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, a cancer of blood-forming tissues, including bone marrow.
- Low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage in animal studies where pregnant animals breathed benzene.
What Happens When Refineries Violate the EPA’s Rules?
Refineries that exceed the allowable level of nine micrograms per cubic meter for benzene emissions must perform an analysis of why the excess emissions are occurring and must then correct the problem. Failing to do so is a violation of EPA regulations.
The EPA rules are not without flaws. For instance, the rules don’t require similar monitoring for benzene at fence lines of chemical plants, some of which are next to oil refineries. The rules also don’t require emissions monitoring within neighboring communities. According to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more effective enforcement of environmental laws, many oil refineries are located near low-income and minority communities.
How We Help Victims of Benzene Exposure
Seek justice with the help of our experienced attorneys. Our Dallas, Texas, benzene law firm has battled corporate giants on behalf of individuals like you for 20 years, aggressively fighting to hold them responsible for dangerous chemicals and the personal injuries and cancers they cause. If you have suffered catastrophic injury caused by dangerous products, we can help.