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EPA limits toxic air pollution from chemical plants

Five months after moving into her Texas City, Texas home, surrounded by industrial facilities, Nina Patton was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wondered if the pollution released by these factories was to blame.

Cancer-causing gases and other toxic air pollution from chemical operations in the Patton community – and others like it across the country – will be reduced. under a rule the Environmental Protection Agency finalized Tuesday. This rule, the first update to the national standards in nearly two decades, aims to prevent cancer in low-income and minority neighborhoods that are disproportionately located near these plants.

The regulation specifically targets ethylene oxide, used to sterilize medical devices, and chloroprene, used to make rubber. Long-term exposure to these two chemicals may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer, and liver cancer. The agency finalized a separate rule last month that will limit ethylene oxide from facilities that sterilize medical equipment, rather than chemical plants.

Patton, 68, said she hopes the rule will improve air quality and eliminate the harsh odors that linger outside her home, located less than a mile from major refineries and less than three kilometers from the main chemical factories. Above all, she hopes that this will reduce cases of cancer in the region.

A few years after moving in, Patton’s husband, Phil, was diagnosed with colon cancer, even though he had no family history. Last week, one of their neighbors died of pancreatic and liver cancer. Although it is almost impossible to prove the cause of these cases, there is plenty of scientific evidence linking industrial air pollution to several types of cancer.

As for local factory owners controlling the chemicals released from their operations, Patton said “it would be different if they couldn’t control them, but they can.” They should therefore take their responsibilities.

Beyond Texas, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said, this rule will particularly benefit communities in Louisiana, where an 85-mile-long zone between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is known as the “Cancer Alley” because of its many polluting facilities. He visited the region in 2021 as part of a “Journey to Justice” tour.

“When I visited St. John’s Parish in Cancer Alley on the first stop of my Journey to Justice tour in 2021, I saw first-hand how the multi-generational and widespread effects of pollution affect health of the local community,” Regan told reporters at a news conference. call Monday to preview the announcement. “Almost everyone I spoke to knew someone who suffered from an illness linked to the pollution in the air they breathed. »

The final rule, Regan added, will “reduce pollution, reduce cancer risks and ensure cleaner air for communities across the country.”

The rule will apply to about 200 chemical plants that make synthetic organic chemicals, polymers and resins. Once implemented, it will reduce more than 6,200 tons of toxic air pollution each year and reduce ethylene oxide and chloroprene emissions from covered facilities by nearly 80 percent, according to the EPA.

To comply, chemical manufacturers will need to monitor emissions of ethylene oxide and chloroprene near the fence lines of their operations. They will need to plug any chemical leaks from vents and storage tanks.

The American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main trade group, said Tuesday it was still reviewing the rule. But the group suggested these requirements could make it more difficult to manufacture essential products.

“Some of the new restrictions threaten to affect the production of chemicals needed for countless everyday products and used in key industries, including agriculture, healthcare, semiconductors and electric vehicle batteries,” he said. said Tom Flanagin, spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council. said in an emailed statement.

The new limits will target a facility owned by Denka Performance Elastomer, a synthetic products manufacturer in LaPlace, Louisiana. Air monitors near the facility showed concentrations of chloroprene reaching up to 15 times the level the EPA considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to the agency. agency.

Last year, the Justice Department sued Denka in an effort to force the company to reduce those emissions. The company said at the time that concentrations of the chemical did not constitute a public health emergency and had declined significantly since 2015.

Denka did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

News Source : www.washingtonpost.com
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