The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed new regulation that would make chemical plant owners and operators responsible for their toxic emissions. Facilities would have to measure and reduce hazardous compounds beyond just the property that a chemical plant sits on, a change that could significantly improve air quality for nearby communities, according to the EPA.
The rule would update regulations that govern chemical plant emissions, particularly air pollutants ethylene oxide and chloroprene, both of which are known to cause cancer in people. It also targets benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride, and vinyl chloride—all of which are harmful to human health. These chemicals are commonly used in manufacturing.
Chemical plants that make, store, use, or emit these toxins “would be required to monitor levels of these air pollutants entering the air at the fenceline of the facility,” according to the EPA. The data collected by these facilities would have to be public on the agency’s WebFiRE database tool. If the recorded emissions are too high, facility owners and operators “would have to find the source and make repairs.” The regulations would hopefully many low-income communities of color, which are disproportionately exposed to harmful chemicals in their environments.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan emphasized in an agency press release that this rule would increase protections for communities like St. John the Baptist Parish, which is in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley.’ That part of the state is home to more than 100 chemical plants and oil refineries, and residents there are diagnosed with cancer at rates nearly 50 times the national average.
“For generations, our most vulnerable communities have unjustly borne the burden of breathing unsafe, polluted air,” said Regan. “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.”
The EPA is accepting written comment on the proposal for the next 60 days, then it will hold a public hearing, after which point the rule could be finalized.
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