Lawsuit Challenges EPA's Overdue Review of Polyether Polyols Emission Standards

Sept. 19, 2023
Environmental organizations claim EPA has not fulfilled its obligations to conduct reviews as part of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

Three environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Sept. 18 for failing to “review and revise as necessary” emission standards for polyether polyols air toxics.

Earthjustice, an environmental law group, submitted the complaint to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Louisiana Environmental Action Network, People Concerned About Chemical Safety and the Sierra Club, according to the court filing.

The group asserts that the EPA has not conducted a mandatory review of hazardous air pollutant standards for polyether polyols in over eight years. The EPA is obligated to revisit the standards for pollutants falling under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants every eight years, the complaint states.

The outdated review is putting vulnerable populations at risk by allowing facilities to emit unacceptable levels of carcinogenic air pollution, like ethylene oxide, Earthjustice stated in a news release. There are approximately two dozen polyether polyol facilities in the United States, primarily concentrated in Louisiana, Texas and West Virginia.

Many of these facilities are in or adjacent to majority-Black or Brown neighborhoods, the law group states. For example, at least five polyether polyols facilities are situated along a stretch of the Mississippi River that contains more than 200 petrochemical plants.

This area has become known as “cancer alley” due to the high rates of cancer in the region.

An additional five polyether polyols facilities are located in the Houston Ship Channel, which has the country’s largest concentration of petrochemical facilities, Earthjustice states.

“Given that EPA knows the cancer risks associated with ethylene oxide, the agency must reconsider emission limits for polyether polyol producers and prevent further harm to fenceline communities,” said Earthjustice Attorney Adrienne Lee in a prepared statement. “We are going to court on behalf of impacted individuals and communities to ensure that the EPA promptly addresses this critical issue.”

Polyether polyols are feedstocks used in various consumer products, including adhesives, sealants and flexible foams urethanes production.

The EPA has stated that hazardous air pollutants can be released at various stages of the manufacturing process. The EPA also notes that some of these pollutants have the potential to be human carcinogens when inhaled, while all of them can lead to toxic effects upon exposure. 

The groups involved in the lawsuit are requesting a court-issued timetable for the EPA to review air toxics standards for polyether polyols facilities. Additionally, these groups are urging the EPA to follow the agency’s Inspector General recommendation to conduct a new assessment of residual risk, taking into consideration allegedly higher cancer risks associated with ethylene oxide emissions from these facilities.

The plaintiffs are also asking the EPA to eliminate an emissions loophole for malfunctions and establish stringent limits for all emissions points that are either uncontrolled or undercontrolled.

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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