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EPA to crack down on chemical plants and refineries

Chemical releases are focus of enforcement effort

by Jeff Johnson, Special to C&EN
February 26, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 9

U.S. chemical companies and refineries are in the crosshairs of an enforcement initiative that EPA unveiled earlier this month.

The new effort is designed to reduce industrial discharges into water, limit toxic air emissions, and cut accidental releases from chemical and other industrial facilities, the agency says.

Some 150 catastrophic accidents occur each year at U.S. facilities that make, use, or store extremely hazardous substances, according to EPA. These incidents release chemicals that cause fatalities, serious injuries, and evacuations. They often occur near low-income or minority communities.

To combat these releases, the agency says its new initiative will focus on innovative prevention measures and better accident response capabilities.

“Enforcement initiatives help EPA focus time and resources on national pollution problems,” says Cynthia Giles, EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. The initiatives are intended to “better protect communities, especially those overburdened by pollution.”

The American Chemistry Council, a chemical trade association, offered no comment on EPA’s enforcement efforts. The American Petroleum Institute says, “These initiatives are chasing nonexistent problems,” adding that API members strive to comply with federal and state regulations. Refinery emissions have declined significantly in recent years, API says.

However, in the past few years, EPA’s refinery enforcement actions have led to facilities shelling out more than $700 million for settlements of alleged violations, investments in environmental improvements, and penalties, according to EPA data.

The new initiative begins in October and will run for three years.


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