EPA Proposes to Ignore Oil Refinery Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, August 24, 2007 (ENS) - A recent analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, on the risks from air toxics emitted from petroleum refineries found that the risks to human health and the environment are low enough that no further controls are warranted, the agency said Thursday.

The EPA analyzed the petroleum refinery emissions as part of a Clean Air Act requirement that the agency examine potential risks remaining after implementation of 1995 standards known as maximum achievable control technology, MACT, that require industrial facilities to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants.

Based on the results of the analysis, EPA is proposing two options for controlling air toxics emissions from refineries.

The first option requires no additional emissions reductions because the risks are "acceptably low."

As a second option, the EPA is proposing requiring additional emissions reductions for certain storage vessels and wastewater treatment units.

Under this alternative, the agency projects that refineries could reduce air toxics emissions by about 1,000 to 4,600 tons per year from 153 facilities. The agency estimates this alternative could cost up to $1.1 million or save up to $4 million nationwide each year by reducing product loss.

EPA is seeking public comment on both options for the next 60 days.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, made its comments immediately, saying that the federal agency is "flouting common sense as well as the law."

"The EPA is officially proposing to ignore acknowledged risk levels that are 70 times higher than allowed by law," said John Walke, a senior attorney and the Clean Air Program director at NRDC.

If it stands, the decision will impose a significant cancer risk on nearly half a million Americans, he said.

Under the Clean Air Act requirement, the agency was supposed to determine whether the first round of MACT standards reduced lifetime cancer risks to the public from toxic refinery pollution to less than 1-in-1-million.

If cancer risk exceeds 1-in-1 million, EPA must require better control measures to protect the public by reducing risks to below that figure.

In Thursday's announcement, however, the EPA asserts that the appropriate threshold for action is not 1-in-1-million, but 100-in-1 million.

Because the agency finds toxic emissions from oil refineries to pose cancer risks of 70-in-1 million, the EPA says its preferred approach is to do nothing about these cancer risks and to require no additional pollution controls at oil refineries.

"Nearly one in three Americans lives within 30 miles of a refinery," Walke said. "This ruling subjects the public to increased cancer risks and other chronic health hazards. Oil companies have the technology and the resources to fix this problem, but EPA wants to let them off the hook."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.