Refineries Greatly Underestimating TRI Emissions

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 09 Jul 2004
Time: 22:05:24
Remote Name:


Review of 10 Toxic Air Emissions Finds "Startlingly" Bad Data Reaching  Public;
Key Flaw: EPA's Failure to Act and New Steps to Undermine Accuracy of   Reporting.
WASHINGTON, D.C. and HOUSTON, TX.///June 22, 2004///The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state governments appear to be underreporting refinery and chemical plant toxic air emissions - including known carcinogens benzene and butadiene - on the "startling magnitude" of at   least  330 million pounds per year, according to a new study released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Galveston Houston-Association for Smog Prevention (GHASP). The study is being released ahead of EPA's release of the 2002 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), expected to come out this week. The EIP-GHASP analysis finds that the presence of the carcinogens benzene and butadiene in the air in the United States may be four to five times higher than the level the EPA reports to the public.
The study, which is based on findings by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), applies the Commission's findings on the underreporting of certain toxic emissions nationwide and concludes that at least 16 percent of toxic air emissions from all sources "have been kept 'off the books'."
Additionally, the EIP-GHASP study notes that the EPA for years has   knowingly underreported the air pollution data in its annual TRI data. The study concludes: ". EPA has failed to improve monitoring and reporting of toxic air pollution. In fact, EPA has moved in the opposite direction and has weakened some federal monitoring requirements. In 2004, EPA adopted new rules that actually weakened air emission reporting requirements . EPA's old rules required that major air pollution sources conduct monitoring sufficient to reveal whether or not the source was complying with federal pollution limits . EPA revised these rules to only require monitoring that occurs more than once every five years. Such infrequent monitoring is clearly inadequate for tracking compliance and means that more sources will be using emission calculations and estimations, rather than actual monitoring, to report emissions. This is obviously a step in the wrong direction."
Environmental Integrity Project Counsel and Equal Justice Works Fellow Kelly Haragan said: "The public is being exposed to far more toxic air pollution than the EPA acknowledges for the record. It is time that EPA and the states deal with the problem of inaccurate and flawed reporting of toxic releases. Systematic underreporting happens today because most air pollution is now estimated - not monitored. To make matters worse, the 'guesswork' is being done by the polluters who have the incentives to keep the numbers as low as possible. Refineries and chemical plants report their toxic emissions under an honor system that is based on calculations that are outdated and inaccurate. Instead of cleaning up this problem, the EPA has further weakened monitoring rules and continues to knowingly feed the public inaccurate data regarding toxic air emissions."
GHASP Director John Wilson said: "We are tired of industry accounting tricks that always seem to show pollution releases dropping rapidly, while air quality improvements seem so slow. It is time for EPA and the states to require real measurements from industry, and take forthright action to protect the public from chemicals that cause cancer, respiratory, cardiovascular and reproductive disease."
Louisiana Bucket Brigade Director Anne Rolfes of New Orleans, LA., said: "Communities living around chemical plants and refineries have a right to know what they are breathing. The chemicals released around them are known to be toxic and cancer-causing. For EPA to knowingly report inaccurate toxic pollution estimates is shocking."
Eboni Cochran, a member of the Rubbertown Emergency Action (REACT) in Louisville, KY., said: "When one of the rubber plants shut down in my community, butadiene levels dropped dramatically. We were surprised that the so-called experts didn't expect the pollution to drop so much. Maybe they believed the company's pollution reports. My neighborhood has high levels of cancer and among the highest rates of asthma in Louisville, so maybe now we can deal honestly the problems."
Entitled "Who's Counting: The Systematic Underreporting of Toxic Air Emissions," the EIP-GHASP report finds:
State pollution rankings change dramatically. Applying the Texas formula nationwide results in states with chemical plants and refineries climbing up the EPA's list of states with the most air pollution. The following six states underwent the largest percentage adjustments in the report, in terms of pounds of adjusted pollution: Texas 159.6 million pounds (155 percent); New Mexico 1 million pounds (100 percent); Louisiana 56 million pounds (74 percent); Oklahoma 7.1 million pounds (41 percent); Iowa 8.7 million pounds (36 percent); and Illinois 17.5 million pounds (30 percent). The adjusted data also reveal at least 5 million pounds
of unreported emissions in Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Texas moved from third to first place in the overall TRI rankings, with Louisiana jumping from ninth place to second. The report notes that further studies are needed to document the extent of underreporting for chemicals beyond the ten included in the EIP/GHASP report. Factoring in the underreporting of additional chemicals would likely further shift the state rankings.
Major jump in carcinogens seen. The adjusted data show an increase of 432 percent for butadiene (a major carcinogen), 417 percent for ethylene, and 440 percent for propylene. According to polluter data reported to the 2001 TRI, nearly six million pounds of benzene, another known carcinogen, were released into the nation's air. The adjusted data show this number to be more than 20 million. Both benzene and butadiene are associated with cancers including leukemia. All 10 pollutants are also associated with the risk of one or more non-cancer chronic diseases, especially respiratory and developmental diseases.
Current EPA reporting is deeply flawed and misses a great deal. In 2001, the US General Accounting Office (GAO) called on EPA to improve its oversight of emissions reporting from large facilities. The GAO study documented that only 4 percent of all emissions "determinations" were made using direct monitoring or testing. The other 96 percent were made based on estimates calculated using emissions factors. Emissions factors were developed by U.S. EPA as a means of estimating the long-term average emissions for all facilities in a particular source category. However, these factors often are not accurate for calculating a particular facility's emissions. EPA acknowledges that its emission factors are not accurate and yet, earlier this year, adopted a rule limiting the amount of air monitoring large sources are required to conduct. This change allows more facilities to rely on EPA's inaccurate emission factors.
To see a full PDF file copy of the report and a related news release go to the Environmental Integrity Project Web site at
The EIP-GHASP report urges the follow steps by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
EPA should amend its regulations to clearly require that all major sources conduct monitoring sufficient to demonstrate whether or not they are in compliance their federal emission limits.
EPA should prioritize review of state-issued permits under federal law to ensure that adequate monitoring is required.
EPA should set a schedule to re-examine its emission factors within two years. Priority should be placed on emissions factors for toxic chemicals a nd on those that are known to be unreliable. These include flares, fugitives and cooling towers at refineries and chemical plants.
EPA should clarify that its emission factors should not be used in the permitting process (for determining permit applicability or emission limits) or for permit fee calculations. Actual emissions estimates based on plant-specific data should be used.
The EIP-GHASP report also notes: "Likewise, states should take independent action to ensure that state-issued Title V permits require adequate monitoring, and that emission factors are not the sole basis for emissions estimates used in other circumstances such as fee calculations." 
Studies by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have actually quantified the extent to which refineries and chemical plants in Texas underreport certain toxic emissions. The new study reveals that, if Texas' results are applied nationwide, refineries and chemical plants failed to report at least 330 million pounds of toxic hydrocarbon emissions, including known carcinogens like benzene and butadiene. Texas officials limited their research to certain hydrocarbons believed to play a major role in causing rapid ozone formation in the Houston area. Of these, 10 hydrocarbons - ethylene, toluene, hexane, xylene, propylene, styrene,
benzene, cyclohexane, ethylbenzene and butadiene - are chemicals that are reported to the TRI. In this report, the 2001 TRI levels reported for chemical plant and refinery emissions of those 10 hydrocarbons are adjusted based on the methodology developed by Texas. Emissions were adjusted for only chemical plants and refineries in four Standard Industrial Codes (SICs). 
Founded by former EPA official Eric Schaeffer, the Environmental Integrity Project ( is a
nonpartisan and nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. Schaeffer directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Regulatory Enforcement until 2002, when he resigned after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush Administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other laws.
The Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention ( is a community-based environmental organization dedicated to improving the quality of its region's hazardous air through public education, participation in the state and federal planning process, and active advocacy in appropriate venues.
CONTACT: Christine Kraly, (703) 276-3258 or

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