Since Benzene has been linked to various cancers, the EPA requires oil refining plants to monitor its levels in the vicinity of the facilities to protect the surrounding communities.
According to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project, at least 13 refineries released benzene in concentrations far exceeding federal limits during 2020. The study was based on data reported to the EPA by the refineries.
The communities living near refineries, typically poor, Black, and Hispanic, were completely unprotected until the EPA began requiring the companies to monitor benzene concentration levels. The requirement was first implemented in 2019.
According to a spokesperson for the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), "If the Biden EPA wants to act on its environmental justice promises, these neighborhoods near refineries are a great place to start.”
At Williams Trial, we are equally concerned about the impact of refineries on neighboring communities in Texas. In my upcoming book Crude, Slick, and Deadly, we talk about this issue: “U.S. and global corporations have targeted low-income and minority communities across the nation for decades, taking advantage of their inability to defend themselves and their property. Corporate America uses these communities as dispensable resources, who not only suffer damage to their health and land value, but also to their culture, trades, and quality of life.”
The EIP report flagged 13 plants that reported benzene levels above nine micrograms per cubic meter, which is the current EPA limit. The companies must now take corrective action to ensure that nearby populations' air is not toxic.
In the case of Delek's Krotz Springs, which was at the top of the EIP’s list, the levels of benzene emitted surpassed three times the federally mandated level, at 31 micrograms per cubic meter.
List of Flagged Refineries
- Delek's Krotz Springs
- PBF in Chalmette
- Phillips 66 in Lake Charles
- Phillips 66 in Alliance
- Shell Norco
- Total in Port Arthur
- Marathon in Galveston Bay
- Citgo in Corpus Christi East
- HollyFrontier Lovington
- HollyFrontier Artesia
- Philadelphia Energy Solutions
Several of these companies have made public statements detailing their continued efforts to comply with regulations. Phillips 66, which operates two of the flagged facilities, stated, "We are dedicated to controlling emissions from our operations, and we take prompt action to investigate and implement corrective actions when and where needed.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Citgo said that "excess emissions can occasionally occur" and attributed the excess benzene levels to external factors.
According to the Center for Disease Control, long-term exposure to benzene can cause:
- Ovary size reduction
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Increased risk for infection
- Excessive bleeding
- Birth defects (based on animal tests)
Last year, the Environmental Integrity Project released a list of refineries that failed to comply with benzene regulations in 2019. Though the list has changed, there are some repeat offenders, including Hollyfrontier, Shell, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Marathon, and Total.
- Philadelphia Energy Solutions (Philadelphia, PA)
- HollyFrontier Navajo Artesia (Artesia, NM)
- Total Refinery Port Arthur (Port Arthur, TX)
- Pasadena Refining (Pasadena, TX)
- Flint Hills Resources Corpus Christi East (Corpus Christi, TX)
- Chevron Pascagoula (Pascagoula, MS)
- Valero Corpus Christi East (Corpus Christi, TX)
- Chalmette Refining (Chalmette, LA)
- Shell Deer Park (Deer Park, TX)
- Marathon Galveston Bay Texas City (Texas City, TX)
Individuals who sued refineries over leukemia caused by benzene exposure have secured millions of dollars in settlements. People living near the plants have successfully filed several class-action lawsuits against the refineries’ operators. In 2015, a Texas man named Virgil Hood received $8.2 million after filing a benzene exposure lawsuit.