Biden and EPA: Combat Cancer Via Stronger Air Standards

April 7, 2023
Biden-Harris administration proposes to strengthen standards for chemical plants.

On April 6 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposal to significantly reduce hazardous air pollutants from chemical plants, including the highly toxic chemicals ethylene oxide (EtO) and chloroprene. According to the EPA, the reductions would dramatically reduce the number of elevated air toxics-related cancer risks in communities surrounding the plants that use those two chemicals.

The proposal advances President Biden’s commitment to securing environmental justice and protecting public health, including for communities most exposed to toxic chemicals. Administrator Michael Regan made the announcement at an event in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana – one of the communities Regan visited during his November 2021 Journey to Justice tour.

“For generations, our most vulnerable communities have unjustly borne the burden of breathing unsafe, polluted air,” says Regan. “When I visited St. John the Baptist Parish during my first Journey to Justice tour, I pledged to prioritize and protect the health and safety of this community and so many others that live in the shadows of chemical plants. I’m proud that this proposal would help deliver on that commitment and protect people from toxic air pollution in communities across the country – from Louisiana and Texas to Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. Every child in this country deserves clean air to breathe, and EPA will use every available tool to make that vision a reality.”

Last month residents of another Louisiana parish located in the vicinity of petrochemical factories filed a federal lawsuit raising allegations of civil rights, environmental justice and religious liberty violations. The lawsuit aims to halt chemical plant construction.

EPA’s proposal would update several regulations that apply to chemical plants, including plants that make synthetic organic chemicals, and regulations that apply to plants that make polymers such as neoprene. The proposed updates would reduce 6,053 tons of air toxics emissions each year, which are known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health effects. Those reductions include a 58-ton-per-year reduction in ethylene oxide (EtO) and a reduction of 14 tons per year in chloroprene.

Other air toxics the rule would reduce include benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. The proposal would also reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by more than 23,000 tons a year.

Facilities that make, store, use or emit EtO, chloroprene, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride or vinyl chloride would be required to monitor levels of these air pollutants entering the air at the fence line of the facility, a requirement that would deliver on one of the commitments the Regan made following his 2021 Journey to Justice tour. This powerful tool would help ensure EPA’s rules deliver: if annual average air concentrations of the chemicals are higher than an action level at the fence line, owners and operators would have to find the source and make repairs. The proposed action levels vary depending on the chemical. For EtO, EPA is proposing an action level of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. For chloroprene, the proposed action level is 0.3 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

EPA will accept written comments for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register and will hold a virtual public hearing. The Agency also will hold a training for communities on April 13, 2023, to review the proposal and answer questions.