PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Five Texas refineries exceeded the federal pollution limit on cancer-causing benzene in 2021, according to the Environmental Integrity Project analysis.
The group highlighted TotalEnergies in Port Arthur.
Port Arthur native John Beard has heard many stories of cancer ravaging families in the city. After 38 years in the petrochemical industry, he realized his paycheck came with a price.
“It was worth it because of what enabled me to do work in a refinery to help myself and help my family. But I realized it was a danger,” said environmental advocate John Beard.
The big danger is benzene, a well-known cancer-causing chemical, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It's a chemical that billows into the air from TotalEnergies.
In 2021, five Texas refineries exceeded federal pollution limits of benzene, according to the environmental integrity project a non-profit environmental advocacy agency.
According to their report, TotalEnergies is second in the state to exceed limits with 17.7 micrograms of benzene emission levels.
The federal threshold is 9 micrograms per cubic meter.
“Benzene is a very common byproduct of the refining process. It's also highly toxic,” said Eric Schaeffer.
Schaeffer is the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.
“If you're exposed to pretty small amounts over a long enough period of time, that will increase the risk of you're getting cancer,” Schaeffer said.
ProPublica, an investigative journalism agency mapped cancer rates across the nation with data from the EPA the nearly 73,000 Port Arthur and Groves residents are sitting in a cancer hot spot where TotalEnergies and other refineries live.
“I dare say that if you landed in Port Arthur, and talk to any person of adult age and ask them this question that they know of anyone who either had cancer or died from it,” said Beard.
We reached out to TotalEnergies about their efforts to reduce benzene.
A spokesperson with the company said in the last six months, the company's air monitoring results are 25 percent below the EPA's limit.
TotalEnergies also said it's invested $1.2 million over the last year in projects to lower benzene emissions.
The EPA released a statement to 12News stating the agency "has initiated several investigations of facilities to determine the reason for the elevated benzene emissions." The agency will continue enforcement.
“Those folks didn't sign up to be exposed to those releases and toxins that come from these facilities,” Beard said.
Now retired, Beard considers himself an advocate. He's taken on the role of executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network.
“Companies have a responsibility not only to their employees but to those who live outside of the fence line who didn't sign on to work inside that plant,” Beard said.
Full statement from TotalEnergies...
The TotalEnergies Port Arthur Refinery takes our responsibility to reduce our environmental footprint seriously, and our continuous improvement efforts have had increasingly positive impacts.
In the last six months (between October 2021 and April 2022), our site’s benzene fenceline monitoring results are 25 percent below the action level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Even though Winter Storm Uri impacted our performance in early 2021, our Company invested more than $1.2 million last year in improvement projects designed to lower benzene emissions from the Port Arthur Refinery.
TotalEnergies is committed to complying with EPA rules and has made steady improvements at its Port Arthur refinery. We place environmental performance at the heart of our strategy and take care to manage the environmental impacts of all our operations. This is why we will continue to push for meaningful solutions and proactively pursue opportunities to implement environmental improvements at the Port Arthur Refinery.
TotalEnergies is a long-standing neighbor in the southeast Texas region where many of our employees live and work. We actively work with local communities to participate in activities that help improve the environment of our region."
Full statement from Environmental Protection Agency...
EPA is actively engaged in reviewing the benzene fence line data and has initiated several investigations of facilities to determine the reason for the elevated benzene emissions. The agency will continue enforcement efforts to ensure exceedances are corrected expeditiously. EPA is committed to reducing benzene and other air toxic emissions from refineries and protecting those communities most at risk from air toxics.
EPA’s refinery fenceline monitoring program, and the posting of the resulting data, gives the public and stakeholders the opportunity to understand and evaluate the air quality information. When monitoring results exceed the action level, the program requires refineries to undertake root cause analyses and corrective actions to reduce benzene.
While the fenceline monitoring program is making a significant impact on emissions reductions, EPA will continue to assess the effectiveness of the program and explore strategies to improve and apply it more broadly. When problems are uncovered, EPA will investigate and take action as appropriate. EPA continues to welcome information from stakeholders.