Texas communities fight back against benzene emissions

Texas communities fight back against benzene emissions

Oil refineries bring economic growth to the areas they inhabit, but residents question whether the boom is worth the price. For those living along the 54-mile stretch of coast between Galveston and Houston, the health risks currently outshine the benefits.

This area is lined with city-like refineries and chemical plants, all releasing dangerous toxins into the atmosphere. Parents refuse to let their children play outside because they see how the emissions affect the paint on their cars.

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency held a public forum where residents and advocates could voice their concerns and suggestions to better monitor and prohibit the dangers released, including alarming amounts of benzene.

Exposure to benzene yields both short- and long-term side effects, ranging from drowsiness to death. After inhaling the compound for several hours, tremors, dizziness, confusion and unconsciousness are common symptoms. Years of exposure can have harmful effects on blood and bone marrow, leading to excessive bleeding, reproductive issues and leukemia.

More than 60 spoke at the forum, asking the EPA and companies to monitor the emissions and ensure cleaner air. The proposed rule means the EPA will have the companies monitor and report the benzene emissions to the local communities.

Two weeks after the data is collected, the EPA can release the information to those affected to heighten their awareness of what they’re inhaling. While some insist on real-time systems, the EPA maintains this daily distribution method doesn’t pick up lower concentrations of benzene.

These initiatives by the EPA can reduce the toxic emissions by more than 5,500 tons per year, helping the 5 million people living within 32 miles of a refinery in the United States breathe better air.

Millions of people are exposed to benzene around the world each year. Many industries in the United States feature environments that create a greater threat of benzene exposure, including powerhouses and steel mills.Additionally, benzene is a powerful solvent that many industrial facilities use to clean and degrease large pieces of machinery. Technology companies in China, such as Samsung and Apple, received attention recently for their use of benzene in production and workers falling ill.

Hopefully the EPA will meet the April 2015 deadline and create new rules to keep communities safer.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Facts about benzene. CDC. [Link]
Schmall, E. (2014). Residents: Restrict emissions at oil refineries. Miami Herald. [Link]
Schmall, E. (2014). Texas hearing to address oil refinery rules. Chron. [Link]

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