In a disturbing reversal of a positive trend in earlier years, emissions of carcinogens from U.S. refineries increased more than 2 percent between 2004 and 2006, according to a new study by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

EIP concluded that total OSHA carcinogens emitted by U.S. petroleum refineries climbed from 3,090,521 pounds in 2004 to 3,164,460 in 2006, an increase of about 74,000 pounds, or more than 2 percent. A handful of refineries accounted for more than a third of total carcinogen emissions, and nine of the top 10 refinery sources are either in Texas or Louisiana.

The Environmental Integrity Project report also cautions that millions of pounds of carcinogenic formaldehyde and benzene emissions by refineries are likely underreported by the industry. For example, only six of the nation’s 150 refineries reported releasing a total of 142,995 pounds of formaldehyde in 2005. But according to EPA methods of estimating emissions, industry-wide emissions could exceed 4 million pounds a year.

In addition, new “remote sensing” technologies that directly measure air emissions show that refinery releases of carcinogens can be as much as 100 times higher than industry estimates based on outdated EPA emission factors. The city of Houston filed a petition on July 10, 2008, asking EPA to replace outdated and inaccurate emission factors that are used to estimate refinery emissions with newer and more accurate methods of measurement.

“What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You”

“Petroleum refineries are a major source of air pollution, and it’s disturbing to see so little progress made in reducing emissions of carcinogens,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “Also, the evidence continues to mount that this toxic pollution is grossly underestimated, or not reported at all. In this case, what you don’t know can hurt you, since most refineries are within breathing distance of where people live, work, and go to school.”

”It’s shocking that these numbers actually increased during this two-year period,” said Matthew Tejada, director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention (GHASP). “The lack of significant progress and now an actual reported increase in emissions totally negates any excuse not to do everything in our power to reduce industrial emissions. We need to use every available tool, including new measuring and monitoring technologies, to get at the real source of these emissions and get these pollutants out of the air we breathe.”

The Top 10

The follow list reveals the top 10 largest emitters in terms of total emissions of carcinogens:

  1. BP (Texas City, Texas)
  2. Exxon Mobil (Baytown, Texas)
  3. Citgo (Lake Charles, La.)
  4. Houston Refining Co. (Houston, Texas)
  5. Flint Hills Res (Corpus Christi, Texas)
  6. Motiva (Port Arthur, Texas)
  7. Chalmette Refining (Chalmette, La.)
  8. Conoco Phillips (Sweeny, Texas)
  9. Conoco Phillips (Roxana, Ill.)
  10. Valero (Corpus Christi, Texas)

As the EIP report notes: “These 10 refineries account for 16 percent of the total refining capacity in the U.S., but emit 36 percent of the OSHA carcinogens.”

The report found that the biggest polluters are not always the largest refineries. Some facilities emit much more carcinogens per barrel of oil produced than others. Texas refineries report more than eight times more carcinogens emitted per barrel of oil than California refineries, according to the report.

The top 10 emitters in terms of carcinogens released per barrel of oil produced include:

  1. Calumet Lubricants (Cotton Valley, La.)
  2. BP (Texas City, Texas)
  3. Giant Refining (Gallup, N.M.)
  4. Total Petrochemicals (Port Arthur, Texas)
  5. NCRA (McPherson, Kan.)
  6. Sinclair Oil (Sinclair, Wyo.)
  7. Valero (Corpus Christi, Texas)
  8. Alon USA (Big Spring, Texas)
  9. Chalmette Refining (Chalmette, La.)
  10. Shell Oil (Yabucoa, Puerto Rico)

“Three refineries that report the highest total releases of OSHA carcinogens – BP Texas City, Chalmette Refining, and Valero in Corpus Christi – are also three of the 10 worst emitters of OSHA Carcinogens per barrel of oil,” the report noted. “BP reported emitting 181,352 lbs of OSHA Carcinogens from their Texas City refinery in 2006. With a refinery capacity of 205,000 barrels of oil per calendar day, BP emits 2.40 lbs of OSHA Carcinogens per 1,000 barrels of oil. This is 4.6 times more than the national average and 240 times more than the best U.S. refineries, which emit only .005 lbs of OSHA carcinogens per 1,000 barrels of oil. Chalmette and Valero in Corpus Christi both emit about 2.7 times more OSHA Carcinogens per barrel of oil than the national average and 140 times more than the best refineries.”

The EIP report cautioned that the “carcinogens per barrel of oil” refinery rankings may be influenced in certain cases by carcinogenic emissions from nearby non-refinery sites, such as chemical plants.

The study was based on an analysis of Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) emissions data reported by refineries to EPA.