Apr 9, 2024 - Energy & Environment

EPA unveils new rules to curb toxic emissions at U.S. chemical plants

A Medline Industries facilities in Waukegan, Illinois, in 2021. People live near the facility had had higher levels of the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide in their bloodstream.

A Medline Industries facilities in Waukegan, Illinois, in 2021. People live near the facility had had higher levels of the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide in their bloodstream. Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules Tuesday to force hundreds of chemical plants across the U.S. to reduce cancer-linked toxic chemicals they emit into the air.

Why it matters: The rules come as a win for environmental advocates and advance the Biden administration's push for environmental justice.

  • The administration also said the rules are part of President Biden's initiative to lower cancer levels in the U.S., which has been dubbed the "cancer moonshot."

The big picture: Around 104,000 people who live within roughly 6 miles of synthetic organic chemical plants face "elevated" cancer risks, according to EPA estimates.

Zoom in: The new rules primarily target two chemicals: ethylene oxide (EtO) and chloroprene, which are used at around 200 plants spread across Texas and Louisiana and other parts of the country.

How it works: The new regulations will require companies to monitor for toxic emissions along a facility's boundary beginning at least two years from today.

  • If a company detects emission levels that go above a limit set by the EPA, they will be required to find the source of the pollution and make repairs.
  • The data gathered through the monitoring will be made public online by the EPA, the agency said.

What they're saying: EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement on Tuesday that the new rules will help communities like St. John the Baptist Parish west of New Orleans, which is home to one of the largest sources of chloroprene emissions in the country.

  • "We promised to listen to folks that are suffering from pollution and act to protect them," Regan said. "Today we deliver on that promise with strong final standards to slash pollution, reduce cancer risk, and ensure cleaner air for nearby communities."

Zoom out: The new rules are also meant to crack down on the emission of other common toxins, like benzene, which has a wide variety of uses, and ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride, which are primarily used in the production of PVC plastic.

  • The administration said it also expects the rules to slash more than 6,200 tons of toxic air pollution and and 23,700 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds each year.

Go deeper: EPA issues landmark rules to curb auto emissions, bolster EVs

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that the roughly 104,000 people with "elevated" cancer risk live within 6 miles of synthetic organic chemical plants (not within 6 miles of all facilities affected by the EPA's new rules).

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