Refinery monitoring for cancer-causing pollutant shows drop

By Sean Reilly | 05/16/2024 04:02 PM EDT

Heralded as a “success story,” the data comes as EPA expands fence-line monitoring requirements to other industries.

A teenage girl walks around the track of a park across the street from a refinery.

A teenage girl walks around the track of a park across the street from the Valero refinery on Aug. 4, 2014, in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston. A new report looks at fence-line monitoring of carcinogenic releases from refineries. Pat Sullivan/AP

A pioneering EPA initiative to track airborne concentrations of a cancer-causing compound around oil refineries appears to be yielding long-term results, according to a new analysis.

Out of 115 refineries, six had average benzene concentrations at the end of last year that exceeded an EPA “action level” of 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air, the Environmental Integrity Project reported in a breakdown released Thursday. That total was down from nine refineries at the end of 2022 and 11 at the end of 2021, according to the watchdog group.

At the urging of the Environmental Integrity Project and other organizations, EPA had folded the monitoring requirement into a 2015 update to air toxics regulations for refineries, marking the first time the agency ordered publicly disclosed long-term monitoring for any industry.


Under a separate update formally published Thursday, however, almost 220 chemical plants will also have to begin tracking fence-line levels of benzene and up to five other pollutants in 2026.