Updated EPA Standards for Refineries

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to update toxic air pollution standards for petroleum refineries to protect neighborhoods near them. The agency’s proposal would further reduce toxic pollution from flaring and other processes, and includes new monitoring requirements. Exposure to toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer.

The agency’s proposal would, for the first time, require monitoring of air concentrations of benzene around the fence-line perimeter of refineries to assure that emissions are controlled, and these results would be available to the public. The proposal would also require upgraded emission controls for storage tanks, including controls for smaller tanks; performance requirements for flares to ensure that waste gases are properly destroyed; and emissions standards for delayed coking units, which are currently a significant unregulated source of toxic air emissions at refineries.

When these proposed updates are fully implemented, EPA estimates toxic air emissions, including benzene, toluene and xylene, would be reduced by 5,600 tons per year. Volatile organic compound emissions would be cut by approximately 52,000 tons per year. The EPA says these steps will have no noticeable impact on the cost of petroleum products at the approximately 150 petroleum refineries around the country.

EPA is issuing this proposal as part of a process outlined in the Clean Air Act that requires the agency to evaluate the emissions standards currently in place to determine whether there is any remaining risk to public health or the environment, and whether there have been any new developments in practices, processes and control technologies.

EPA will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. The agency plans to hold two public hearings, near Houston and Los Angeles, and will finalize the standards in April 2015. Details on the public hearings will be available on EPA’s website shortly. Additional information about the proposal is available at www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/petref.html.

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