EPA Finalizes Rule Reducing Air Toxics Emissions from Cancer-Causing Chemical Plants

The updates will reduce more than 6,000 tons of the nation’s most harmful air pollution, including the carcinogens ethylene oxide and chloroprene

Washington, DC—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a final rule updating critical Clean Air Act standards that will reduce toxic emissions from more than 200 of the nation’s most hazardous chemical plants.

The updates apply to facilities in the synthetic organic chemical manufacturing industry and polymers and resins manufacturing plants. They result from long-running advocacy by Earthjustice’s clients for EPA to pass stronger rules to protect fenceline communities from harmful air pollution, including the carcinogens ethylene oxide and chloroprene.  These standards will cover facilities across the nation, from Texas’s Gulf Coast and Louisiana’s Cancer Alley to West Virginia’s Chemical Valley. Frontline communities in these areas have long borne the brunt of toxic emissions from chemical plants.

“Communities’ relentless advocacy for more protective clean air standards is paying off,” said Patton Dycus, an attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “While we’re concerned that some aspects of EPA’s final rule aren’t strong enough, on whole the rule is a big step forward in combatting air pollution and protecting vulnerable communities.”

“Today marks a victory in our pursuit for environmental justice, with the final rule poised to significantly reduce the toxic air pollution that harms communities in Texas’s Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, and throughout the U.S.,” said Earthjustice Vice President for Healthy Communities Patrice Simms. “Setting protective air standards for hundreds of chemical plants and requiring fenceline monitoring for some of the most toxic emissions shows a commitment to protecting public health. We look forward to the EPA’s swift implementation and rigorous enforcement of this critical rule.”

A vital feature of the updated standards is the introduction of fenceline monitoring for six toxic air pollutants: ethylene oxide, chloroprene, vinyl chloride, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and ethylene dichloride. This marks only the second time that EPA has mandated fenceline monitoring in air toxics standards under the Clean Air Act—since 2015’s refinery rule—setting a new standard for accountability and transparency.

Another key piece of the rule is that EPA analyzed the cumulative risk that communities face from these chemical plants in combination with other major industrial sources of air pollution. Additional updates include risk-based standards for emitters of ethylene oxide and chloroprene and long-needed updates to standards for flares. The health implications of exposure to emissions are profound, with increased risks of cancer and other serious health issues. For too long, communities, especially those that are predominantly Black, Latino, and low-income, have suffered unnecessary exposure to these dangers. The EPA’s actions today represent a critical move towards rectifying these injustices and ensuring a safer, healthier environment.

Additional quotes:

“For years, we’ve watched our families and neighbors suffers from disease, like cancer, due to unchecked pollution,” said Robert Taylor, founder of Concerned Citizens of St. John. “The EPA’s new rule is a glimmer of hope for us all. It acknowledges our struggles and sets forth a path to cleaner air and healthier lives. It’s a significant step toward holding polluters accountable and safeguarding our community’s future.”

“This update is more than policy; it’s a promise to prioritize people over pollution,” said Juan Parras, executive director, and founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “By mandating fenceline monitoring, the EPA is ensuring that chemical plants can no longer hide the dangers they pose to our communities. It’s a game-changer for environmental justice, especially for those of us living in the shadow of these industries.”

“Living amidst these chemical plants, we’ve been forced to accept the constant threat to our health as normal,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James.  “Today’s announcement from the EPA is a hard-won victory for every family that has feared for their health due to toxic emissions. It’s a step toward a future where our children can breathe easier.”

“The link between air pollution and serious health issues is undeniable,” said Jane Williams, executive director at California Communities Against Toxics. “The EPA’s updated standards are a step forward in public health protection, especially in reducing exposure to carcinogens like ethylene oxide and chloroprene. This rule has the potential to prevent countless cases of illness and save lives.”

“Waking up every day with the fear of what you’re breathing in is a reality Louisiana’s communities have lived with for too long,” said Wilma Subra, technical director for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. “Additional reductions by EPA would assist community members to live healthier lives from here on out. Moving towards additional reductions by EPA would assist community members to reduce their body burden of chemical exposure during the remainder of their lives.”

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org

Photo credit: iStock, halbergman