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Elevated Benzene Levels Reported at 10 US Refineries

Posted on February 28, 2020 by Lauren Scott and Roger Marks

A nonprofit watchdog group released a report that shows elevated benzene levels at 10 oil refineries throughout the US. While this is not illegal, EPA regulations require the refineries to investigate the cause of elevated emissions and take steps to reduce them.

The Environmental Integrity Project compiled emissions reporting data submitted to EPA between January 2018 and September 2019 from each oil refinery. Six of the ten oil refineries included in the group’s research are located in Texas. The others are in in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

According to the report, benzene levels exceeded EPA’s limit during the third quarter of 2019 by anywhere from 11% to 444%, with a Pennsylvania-based refinery as the worst offender.

The EPA limit is 9 micrograms per cubic meeting over a one-year period.

Benzene Hazards Under EPA Regulations

Benzene is extremely flammable, smells sweet, and is a light-yellow or colorless liquid at room temperature. Benzene can be commonly found in air emissions from burning coal, gas stations, and motor vehicle exhausts.

Short-term exposure to benzene is known to cause headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, and respiratory tract irritation. Long-term exposure can affect bone marrow, blood, and reproductive function, among other adverse effects.

Benzene was classified as a known human carcinogen under EPA’s Risk Assessment Guidelines of 1986. In 2015, EPA included benzene monitoring requirements in the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s Reconsideration of the 2015 Rule

On February 4, 2020, EPA finalized its reconsideration of some elements of the 2015 rule. While the fenceline monitoring requirement was not one of the subjects that EPA reconsidered as a whole, EPA did respond to comments regarding a provision to reduce the frequency of fenceline monitoring at sampling locations that consistently record low benzene concentration levels.

Online Benzene Safety Training: Be Ready Before You Need It

Lion’s online Benzene Safety training is designed for personnel who work with or may be exposed to benzene while on the job. Employees in the oil and gas industry should be aware of the risks.

This 1-hour benzene safety course guides employees through the risks, regulatory requirements, and worker protections to prevent benzene exposure under OSHA regulations.

Online safety training allows workers to start, pause, and complete the course at their own pace. Support available 7 days a week.