Nine oil refineries in the United States account for only 15 percent of the nation’s refining capacity but produce a shocking third of total carcinogenic pollution emissions that are reported by the oil industry, according to a new report from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.
But when it comes to local-to-St. Charles Parish refineries, we’re in good shape. None of the top polluters are located here.
In fact, a spokesman for the environmental group tells the Herald-Guide that even though all plants produce toxic wastes, Valero St. Charles Refinery in Norco, Motiva Enterprises, LLC in Norco, and Shell Chem LP in St. Rose, all are doing a good job of handling theirs safely and guarding against releases into the environment.
When considering toxic emissions, the size of the plant, and its overall refining capacity,, are prime considerations in how much is too much.
“In a comparision of releases of so-called ‘OSHA carcinogens’ for the three refineries located in St. Charles Parish, you’ll find the numbers are lower on average than other refineries in the United States,” direction Eric Schaeffer, formerly of the Environmental Protectin Agency, told the Herald-Guide from his office in Washington, D.C.
“Shell Norco (east chemical plant) was Louisiana’s second largest source of emissions of “OSHA carcinogens” in 2004,” he adds. “But that’s not surprising given the plant’s size and what it produces.”
In other words, the waste produced was relative to the output and it was handled appropriately.
Disturbingly, Schaeffer said, smaller refineries in other parishes and other states are producing a disproportionate amount of toxic wastes.
And he says that what he calls “major inconsistencies” in the carcinogen emission data analyzed by EIP “raise serious questions about the accuracy and completeness of oil industry reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about such pollution.”
Entitled Refined Hazard: Carcinogenic Air Pollution from America’s Oil Refineries, the EIP report identifies the Top 10 refinery sources of air emissions of carcinogens in 2004 as follows: (1) BP/Texas City, TX; (2) Exxon Mobil/Baytown, TX; (3) Flint Hills/Corpus Christi, TX.; (4) La Gloria/Tyler, TX; (5) Lyondell-Citgo/Houston, TX; (6) Exxon Mobil/Baton Rouge, LA; (7) Valero/Corpus Christi, TX; (8) Sunoco/Philadelphia, PA; (9) Chalmette/Chalmette, LA; and (10) Citgo/Lake Charles, LA.
“Overall level of emissions of carcinogens declined between 1999 and 2004,” said Schaeffer.
“But there were big jumps at some refineries and inconsistency in the level of reporting at others.
“EPA should stop taking industry self-reporting at face value, and investigate whether these emissions are being accurately reported as the law requires.”
The EIP report uses data from the EPA Toxics Release Inventory to catalogue refinery air emissions of certain pollutants that are known or believed to cause cancer.
The TRI is a database that contains information on toxic chemical releases reported annually by certain covered industries, including oil refineries.
Designations of chemicals as carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic in humans are made by expert consensus groups established by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, or by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is an agency of the World Health Organization.
The carcinogens emitted by U.S. refineries include benzene, ethylbenzene, butadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, naphthalene, formaldehyde, and metals such as nickel and lead.
Key findings of the EIP report include:
– The BP Texas City refinery – where a major 2005 explosion resulted in 15 fatalities – was by far the largest refinery source of carcinogen emissions in 2004, due mostly to its reported release of nearly two million pounds of formaldehyde in that year. BP has claimed that the formaldehyde release resulted from a change in its emission calculations, raising questions as to whether other refineries are reporting accurately.
* La Gloria, a small refinery in Tyler, Texas, is the largest refinery source of air emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen.
* Sunoco’s Philadelphia refinery is the largest single U.S. refinery source of polycyclic aromatic compounds, which include suspected carcinogens.
* Excluding BP Texas City, Texas refineries accounted for 36 percent of total refinery air emissions of carcinogens in 2004, but only 24 percent of the nation’s refining capacity.
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