New Chemical Plant Rule Seeks to Cut Emissions of Cancer-causing Chemicals

At least three chemical plants in Indiana affected by proposed rule.
April 12, 2023

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to change several regulations that would prevent chemical plants from emitting tons of cancer-causing chemicals into neighborhoods .

If the rule is finalized, it could improve the air quality in communities surrounding major chemical manufacturers in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Mount Vernon.

The EPA is updating two regulations that apply to synthetic organic chemical manufacturers and certain polymer and resin manufacturers, the New Performance Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants and National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, to stop the annual emission of 6,053 tons of hazardous air pollutants, including ethylene oxide, chloroprene and other pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer.

“For generations, our most vulnerable communities have unjustly borne the burden of breathing unsafe, polluted air,” said EPA administrator Michael S. Regan. “When I visited St. John the Baptist Parish [Louisiana] during my first Journey to Justice tour [in 2021], I pledged to prioritize and protect the health and safety of this community and so many others that live in the shadows of chemical plants. I’m proud that this proposal would help deliver on that commitment and protect people from toxic air pollution in communities across the country — from Louisiana and Texas, to Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. Every child in this country deserves clean air to breathe, and EPA will use every available tool to make that vision a reality.”

The proposed rule would tighten air emissions of ethylene oxide and chloroprene. The rule would also require facilities that make, store, use or emit ethylene oxide and chloroprene or the volatile organic compounds benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride to monitor the levels of those air pollutants that could enter areas outside of the facilities’ fence lines.

Ethylene oxide is a sweet-smelling gas used to make other chemicals, plastics, detergents and adhesives. The chemical is also used as an antimicrobial pesticide to sterilize about 50% of medical equipment in the U.S.

Short term exposure to ethylene oxide can cause headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, respiratory problems and vomiting. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, lymphocytic leukemia and breast cancer.

Chloroprene is a chemical used to make neoprene, a synthetic rubber used to make a wide variety of products like athletic gear, bags, bandages, fabrics, adhesives, caulks, wire and cable coatings and other goods used in construction, vehicles and machinery.

The chemical can increase the risk of developing cancers that affect the liver, lungs, blood, bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes and the digestive system.

Benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride are all suspected of causing cancer.

The EPA identified three Indiana sites that would be affected by the proposal — Vertellus Integrated Pyridines LLC in Indianapolis, Evonik Corp. – Tippecanoe Laboratories in Lafayette and Saudi Arabia’s Basic Industries Corp.’s Innovative Plastics Mt. Vernon LLC in Mount Vernon.

Vertellus Integrated Pyridines LLC produces the chemicals pyridine and picoline, which are used to make medicines, vitamins, food flavorings, pesticides, paints, rubber products, adhesives and waterproofing for fabrics.

The site is feet away from a residential neighborhood.

The facility emits thousands of pounds of benzene and other hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds.

Part of the Vertellus site is also a Superfund site with soil and groundwater contaminated with heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.

Evonik Corp.’s Tippecanoe Laboratories produces pharmaceutical ingredients and emits 137,199 pounds of benzene and other volatile organic compounds and 19,113 pounds of hazardous air pollutants each year.

SABIC Innovative Plastics facility in Mount Vernon produces polycarbonate plastic and a thermoplastic polyester called polybutylene terephthalate used by the auto industry, healthcare products, construction and many other consumer goods.

The facility reported releasing hundreds of thousands of pounds of hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds, as well as more than 564,000 pounds of ozone precursors and more than 12,500 pounds of ozone-depleting substances.

Later this month, the EPA will begin accepting public comments on the rule for 60 days.

New Chemical Plant Rule Seeks to Cut Emissions of Cancer-causing Chemicals