Biden’s Bold Move Against Toxic Chemical Emissions

epa chemicals

epa chemicals

by | Apr 9, 2024

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In a landmark move, the Biden administration, via the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has issued a directive requiring over 200 chemical plants to significantly reduce harmful air pollutants’ release. This initiative is designed to mitigate cancer risks for those living near industrial zones, marking a pivotal advancement in pollution regulation—the first in almost two decades. The final rule will reduce the number of people with elevated cancer risk by 96% in communities near plants that emit ethylene oxide and chloroprene, advancing President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

The New Rule

The EPA’s new rule zeroes in on ethylene oxide and chloroprene, chemicals linked to medical device sterilization and rubber manufacturing for footwear, respectively. These substances have been labeled as likely carcinogens by the EPA, with a particular focus on their impact in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, densely populated with petrochemical and refinery plants.

Predominantly situated in Texas, Louisiana, the Ohio River Valley, and West Virginia, the affected facilities are often surrounded by communities with a majority of Black or Latino residents, who face higher rates of cancer, respiratory ailments, and premature mortality.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, who visited the heart of Cancer Alley last year, has reiterated his commitment to curbing emissions from these plants. “I saw firsthand how the multigenerational and widespread effects of pollution were affecting the health of the local community,” Mr. Regan stated, adding that the rule is expected to cut toxic pollutants by 6,200 tons annually and reduce ethylene oxide and chloroprene emissions by 80 percent.

Pollution Regulations and Regional Obstacles

Under the new regulation, chemical manufacturers must monitor vents and storage tanks for emissions of the targeted chemicals and address any detected leaks. The rule also encompasses the reduction of emissions for four additional toxic chemicals: benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride, and vinyl chloride, which are used in various industrial processes.

Adding to the regulatory framework, plants will be obliged to submit quarterly data to the EPA one year after the commencement of monitoring. This data will be publicly accessible, informing communities of potential risks. Patrice Simms, Earthjustice’s vice president for litigation for healthy communities, emphasized the profound significance of the regulation, stating, “In a genuine sense, this is about life and death.”

Despite prioritizing mitigating environmental hazards in industrial vicinities, Mr. Regan’s efforts have encountered substantial obstacles. Following complaints from Louisiana residents in 2022, the EPA initiated an investigation into potential civil rights violations by the state, only to be met with legal challenges from Louisiana. The investigation was halted, and a January ruling by the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana favored the state.

Nevertheless, the final chemical rule is part of the EPA’s strategy to regulate polluting plants effectively. EPA Administrator Regan assured that the rule is independent of the civil rights case, stating, “As an administrator, what I’ve pledged to do is use every single tool in our toolbox to do whatever we can to protect these frontline communities.”

Recently, the EPA finalized additional standards mandating pollution controls for plants utilizing ethylene oxide for sterilization, further reducing emissions.

However, the rule has faced criticism from Republicans and industry groups, who argue it imposes excessive burdens and questions the EPA’s scientific evaluation of the chemicals. The US Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns, suggesting that “significant scientific uncertainty” should prevent the rule from advancing.

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