Ten U.S. Refineries Emit Cancer-Causing Chemical Above EPA Limits

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, which had the highest benzene concentrations in the nation.

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, which had the highest benzene concentrations in the nation. Alamy

Ten oil refineries in the United States are emitting levels of the pollutant benzene well above the federal government’s “action level” limit, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog group. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause blood disorders and leukemia, Reuters reported.

Oil refineries with high levels of benzene are not technically breaking the law. But these facilities are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the pollutant and take action if levels exceed EPA’s limit of 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over a year. Benzene is a colorless or light yellow chemical that evaporates from gasoline and oil. Exposure to it can cause vomiting, headaches, anemia, and an increased risk of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The new report from the Environmental Integrity Project analyzed a year of air monitoring data from 114 refineries around the U.S. Philadelphia Energy Solutions had the highest benzene concentrations in the nation, measuring nearly five times the EPA limit. The Philadelphia plant, once the largest refinery on the East Coast, closed in 2019 following an explosion and fire. But former employees are pushing to reopen the facility, backed by the Trump White House, InsideClimate News reported.

HollyFrontier Corp’s Navajo Artesia plant in New Mexico ranked second on the list, emitting more than three times the federal standard. According to the report, however, the plant emitted benzene levels as high as 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in June and July 2018. The facility sits roughly 300 yards from an elementary school, the Environmental Integrity Project said.

Six of the 10 refineries with benzene levels above EPA standards were in Texas. Two others were located along the Gulf of Mexico in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Environmental Integrity Project

“These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices to reduce the leakage of this cancer-causing pollutant into local communities,” Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement. “EPA in 2015 imposed regulations to better monitor benzene and protect people living near refineries, often in working-class neighborhoods. Now, EPA needs to enforce these rules.”