In “crucial step”, EPA finalizes rule to reduce cancerous chemical plant emissions

By Carey Gillam

More than 200 US chemical plants face new requirements that should slash toxic air pollution and reduce cancer risks for hundreds of thousands of people living near the facilities, officials said on Tuesday.

The action formalizes a hotly debated proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut out over 6,000 tons of toxic air pollution annually. The agency is taking specific aim at emissions of ethylene oxide (EtO), which is used in the production of many products and for sterilization of medical equipment, and chloroprene, used to make synthetic rubber.

Most of the impact would be seen in plants in Texas and Louisiana, as well as in the Ohio River Valley, in communities that have become notorious for high rates of cancer. People living near a chloroprene plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, face a cancer risk 50 times higher than the national average, for instance. The community has been dubbed “Cancer Alley.”

“This final rule delivers on EPA’s commitment to protecting public health for all, especially communities historically overburdened by pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a press conference.

An EPA analysis shows that once the final rule is implemented, “no one will again face elevated cancer risks from EtO or chloroprene emissions from the equipment and processes covered by this rule,” Regan said. He said agency actions would cut the cancer risk for people living near the plants by 96%.

The move is part of a “government-wide commitment to ending cancer as we know it,” he said.