At least 10 US oil refineries have been emitting cancer-causing benzene above the federal government’s limits, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project.
The group reviewed a year of air monitoring data recorded at the fence lines of 114 refineries, as reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The facilities are not breaking the law, but they are required by EPA to analyze the causes of the emissions and try to reduce them.
Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said while some refineries have made improvements, others are still releasing benzene at harmful rates.
“Benzene comes with elevated cancer risk but also lots of non-cancer issues that are harder to quantify,” Schaeffer said. People can get sick from low levels in the long term or high levels in the short term.
Benzene is just one of multiple dangerous pollutants emitted by refineries – which turn oil into gasoline and other products. Studies have shown the populations living around refineries – often people of color and low-income families – to have worse asthma and other respiratory problems.
Benzene harms cell processes. It can keep bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells and can damage the immune system and increase the risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Over the long term, benzene exposure causes other problems, including cancer, according to the Department of Human Health and Services.
The data is being collected and reported for the first time following a 2012 lawsuit by the Environmental Integrity Project and seven community and environment groups.