In a wave of new federal regulatory standards announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an April 9 announcement set stricter limits on pollution from chemical plants. More than 200 plants across the country, including along the Texas Gulf Coast, will be required to curb the toxic air pollution released into the air.

Out of the EPA's 200 listed facilities in the country, more than 80 are in Texas alone. Long-term exposure to the two chemicals targeted by the EPA’s new rule can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer and liver cancer, according to the EPA.

The vice president of the national environmental nonprofit Earthjustice said in a statement that the EPA's rule will protect the public's health.

“Today marks a victory in the 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.,” Patrice Simms said. “Setting protective air standards for over 200 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.”

The breakdown

The EPA addressed the new rule in a risk-assessment document stating how officials found the new standards would dramatically reduce air toxics related to cancer risks for communities historically overburdened by facilities that make synthetic organic chemicals. The new rule specifically targets chloroprene and ethylene oxide.
  • Chloroprene is a chemical used in the production of neoprene, according to the EPA. Neoprene has a variety of uses, such as in wetsuits, gaskets, hoses and adhesives.
  • Ethylene oxide is produced in large volumes as a colorless gas. The gas is used primarily to make other chemicals that make a range of products, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents and adhesives. It is also used to sterilize devices that can’t be sterilized using steam or radiation, such as some medical and dental equipment.
Once implemented, the rule will reduce both chemical emissions from covered processes and equipment by nearly 80%, according to the agency.

Digging deeper

In the Houston area, 32 facilities produce these types of air toxics, according to environment officials from Air Alliance Houston. These plants are in neighborhoods that have elevated cancer risks compared to other parts of Harris County where such facilities are not located. Baytown, Deer Park and La Porte all have facilities that emit such carcinogens and all have cancer rates higher than the county average, according to a news release from the organization.
  • Other Texas cities cited by the EPA's facility list include Alvin, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Conroe, Channelview, Lufkin, Orange, Pasadena, Port Arthur and Port Neches.
“Today's new rule is an important reminder that air pollution prevention is cancer prevention. Nationally, the new rule is projected to reduce the number of people with elevated cancer risk by 96% in communities near plants that emit ethylene oxide and chloroprene. Houstonians will be among these beneficiaries, too," said Inyang Uwak, director of research and policy at Air Alliance Houston, in a news release.

What residents should know

More information on the ruling can be found on the EPA's website here: air pollution from chemical plants.