Plastics and chemical manufacturing are among the heaviest polluting industrial sectors in the country, responsible for harming people’s health and heating the climate. Now there is an opportunity to rein in the toxic air emissions from some of the biggest emitters. EPA is proposing rules that would cut pollution at more than 200 of the largest, most toxic chemical and plastics manufacturing facilities. These heavy polluters are located across the US with concentrations in the Houston Ship Channel; Cancer Alley, Louisiana; and the Ohio River Valley (including Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania).
The Clean Air Act and Petrochemical Rules
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to protect public health by setting air quality standards and regulating emissions of hazardous air pollutants. EPA must review and update these standards every eight years. It is through these emissions standards that EPA regulates petrochemical manufacturing facilities and other major industrial sources that emit extremely large amounts of one or more of 188 listed hazardous pollutants.
These federal standards are a critical tool for holding accountable the plastics and petrochemical manufacturers—companies such as Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and DuPont. The rules determine our ability to watchdog and litigate against the worst corporate polluters across the petrochemical supply chain.
An Unprecedented and Hugely Consequential Opportunity
Three of the rules by which we hold petrochemical polluters accountable are up for review in spring of 2023: The Hazardous Organic National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) and the Groups 1 and 2 polymer and resin rules.
Together these rules cover many of the highest-risk chemical manufacturing facilities in the US. More than 80% have violated pollution laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or Safe Drinking Water Act, during the last three years (some for every single quarter). Roughly one-third currently have what are classified as the most significant and highest priority types of violations.
Almost 60% of the facilities are located in Texas or Louisiana. Ninety-one percent of the facilities in Texas and 80% in Louisiana have been in noncompliance with one or more environmental laws during the last three years.
States with multiple heavy emitters covered by these rules include:
New York: 4
West Virginia: 4
North Carolina: 3
South Carolina: 3
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that strong protections for impacted communities are tied to legally binding enforcement strategies. This is a rare chance to hold polluters accountable and to mitigate the harm they cause to workers, children, families, and all people.
Learn More: Petrochemical Rule Teach In, April 13, 2023 @ 2 PM ET / 11 AM PT
Join us on April 13 to hear from chemical rule and frontline experts who are working to influence these rules. Learn more about the rules and how you or your organization can help to ensure generational protections for workers and fenceline communities. Sign up here.
In May 2023, there will be a public hearing and a chance to provide public comments on EPA’s proposed rules. There will be upcoming opportunities to sign onto letters or submit your own.
The proposed rules include fenceline monitoring for six toxic air pollutants:
- Ethylene oxide (damages the DNA of children and increases the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, and lymphocytic leukemia)
- Benzene (causes leukemia and other blood cancers and harms the reproductive system)
- Chloroprene (causes cancer and damages the liver, cardiovascular system, and immune system; extremely harmful to the children and adults who live near the Denka-DuPont facility in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana)
- Ethylene dichloride (impairs the nervous system, liver, kidneys, cardiovascular system, and reproductive system)
- 1,3-butadiene (linked to leukemia and other cancers and to heart, lung, reproductive, and neurological problems), and
- Vinyl chloride (causes liver injury and liver cancer as well as neurologic and behavioral symptoms)
Powerful public testimony will be critical, especially from frontline and impacted communities. An interactive map was created in an effort to help frontline organizers develop testimony that:
- Characterizes the communities within the three-mile radius of these facilities (number of schools, racial makeup, percent of insured, health statistics)
- Speaks to the lived experience of those residing next to, or impacted by, the air and water emissions from these facilities
- Describes how the rules can help reduce and monitor emissions from these facilities and techniques that can help prevent pollution at its source
A Checklist for Strong Rules
Moms are advocating for the strongest possible safeguards including:
- Removal of all exemptions for startup, shutdown and malfunction
- Robust community air-toxics impact analyses
- Increased flare efficiency and monitoring
- Enhanced leak detections and repair protocols
- Enhanced process controls
- Fenceline monitoring for toxic chemicals