Environmental Justice and Refinery Pollution

A 2015 federal Clean Air Act rule requires oil refineries to install air pollution monitors at their boundaries to identify benzene emissions escaping into surrounding neighborhoods. Whenever the monitoring results show that benzene levels at refinery fencelines average more than nine micrograms per cubic meter above background levels over a year, the 2015 rule requires the refinery to investigate and take action by cleaning up the emission sources causing the problem.

Thirteen refineries exceeded EPA’s “action level” in 2020 for the 12 months ending on December 31, 2020, reporting annual benzene concentrations that range from 9.36 micrograms to more than 31 micrograms for the year, according to the Environmental Integrity Project’s report. More than 530,000 people live within three miles of these refineries, with 57 percent being people of color and 43 percent living below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census Bureau and EPA data.