TCEQ Report Could Pave Way for Plants to Emit More Hazardous Pollutants

"A new assessment from the agency downplays the risks of ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen."

"When the wind blows across Port Arthur, a predominantly African American city on the Gulf Coast, it’s likely carrying toxic gasses like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and benzene into residents’ lungs. Bordering the city are two sprawling oil refineries, one of which is the largest such facility in the United States. Activists here helped establish tighter national limits for pollution from refineries and plants. Now, Port Arthur might be the site of yet another fight for clean air.

Last month, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released a scientific assessment that justifies an increase in the amount of ethylene oxide that petrochemical plants can legally emit. TCEQ’s assessment is the first step toward increasing the amount of legally acceptable ethylene oxide emissions to 1,000 times the current rate. Ethylene oxide, which is used to create products like antifreeze and adhesives, is a known carcinogen linked to lymphoma, leukemia and breast cancer.

TCEQ’s report asserts that Environmental Protection Agency models overestimate the number of cancer deaths that can be linked to the chemical. Environmental advocates from the Sierra Club, Environment Texas and other groups wrote a letter to TCEQ last week requesting a 45-day extension to review the agency’s methodology and findings, citing a 2018 EPA report that found that “communities nationwide, including in Texas, are facing extraordinarily high cancer risk due to this exposure.” Two experts told the Observer that they can’t reasonably review the agency’s complex assessment by the current deadline of August 12, particularly when the stakes are so high given existing research around ethylene oxide’s carcinogenic effects. The letter says that the agency is “attacking and proposing to ignore EPA scientists’ evaluation” of health risks."

Amal Ahmed reports for the Texas Observer July 18, 2019.

Source: Texas Observer, 07/19/2019