Ten oil refineries — six in Texas — had levels of cancer-causing benzene above the government's "action level" at their perimeter as of last September, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project.
Refineries are mandated to monitor benzene concentrations around their fence line — and if their concentration exceeds the action level, they are required to "implement corrective measures," the EPI noted.
The report, released Thursday, examined the monitoring reports of more than 100 refineries and identified 10 — six of which were in Texas — whose benzene levels were higher than the EPA's "action level" as of the third quarter of 2019.
"Benzene can affect the human blood system and increase the risk of cancer," the report said. "Benzene is classified as a known human carcinogen, with the potential to cause leukemia."
The refinery found to have the highest benzene concentration level, Philadelphia Energy Solutions in Pennsylvania, had a benzene level that was 444% greater than the EPA's action level, according to the report.
Other refineries identified as having some of the highest levels were the HollyFrontier Navajo Artesia in New Mexico and the Total Port Arthur Refinery in Texas.
A spokesperson for Total told The Hill the refinery has a "robust monitoring system in place to assist us in identifying the source of an emission, investigating its cause and implementing corrective actions."
"We are committed to comply with EPA rules," the spokesperson added. "We take seriously our responsibility to reduce our environmental footprint. Our refinery employees live and have families in this community, and the Total Port Arthur Refinery works hard at being a good neighbor."
The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association said in a statement "as soon as problems were detected corrections were made and in many cases, if not all, measures reduced to below action levels shortly thereafter."
A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency told The Hill the benzene levels measured at a refinery's perimeter do not reflect the levels of the pollutant in the community.
"The actual exposure to benzene in nearby communities can vary from the concentrations measured at a refinery's fenceline, depending on multiple factors that include emissions from nearby non-refinery sources (which may include motor vehicles and chemical plants), weather conditions and wind direction," the spokesperson told the news outlet.
"The federal action level is intended as a benchmark to flag when emissions are higher than expected, so that facilities can look for the cause and take early action," the spokeperson added. "The federal action level is not based on an analysis of risk levels to the community — but rather on emissions from the facility."
Benzene is a colorless or light yellow chemical with a slightly sweet odor that evaporates from gasoline and oil. It is also manufactured as an ingredient in plastics, pesticides, and other products. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, benzene exposure can cause vomiting, headaches, anemia, increased risk of cancer, and – in high enough doses – death, the EIP reported.
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