October 10, 2008 The Pump Handle 4Comment

The Mayor of Houston, Texas Bill White wants the Lyondell Chemical Refinery to justify and defend its practice of emitting tons of benzene annually into the air.  (In 2007, the refinery reported emissions of 39 tons, which they proudly noted was below their 58 ton annual cap.)  The Houston Chronicle’s Matthew Tresaugue reports that the Mayor’s office send a 96-page letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requesting a public hearing on Lyondell’s request for a 10-year extension of its toxic air emissions permit.

“The refinery is in the city’s cross hairs because it’s one of the nation’s largest emitters of benzene…  What’s more, it yields more emissions of the toxic chemical per barrel of product than other refineries across the nation.  ‘If the company believes that it’s just fine to put tons and tons of benzene in the air,’ [Mayor] White said in an interview, ‘then we would like to hear what scientific evidence they have that benzene is good for you.'”

In “Mayor takes on giant refinery,” Tresaugue writes:

“[Mayor] White said the he is hopeful that the  hearing would lead state regulators to establish an acceptable limit for benzene.  Texas doesn’t have one, but other states have set such standards.  White also wants the TCEQ to require monitoring of emissions at the plant’s fence line with public disclosure as a condition of every permit.   …the city raised doubts about the accuracy of industry’s emissions estimates, saying that direct measurements showed significant discrepancies.”

In a follow-up editorial, the Houston Chronicle’s editors wrote:

“After years of negotiations to lower the level of toxic emissions by industrial facilities here, Houston Mayor Bill White has seized on a rare opportunity to try to force Lyondell Chemical to defend in court emissions of the carcinogen benzene from its refinery along the Houston Ship Channel.  In nearly three terms in office, the mayor has searched for ways to force industries that produce toxic emissions to accurately report the discharges and utilize new technologies to reduce them.”

“The mayor and his staff deserve credit for taking a tough line against air pollution and for exploring every avenue possible to force industry and state and federal regulators to recognize that current emission standards are inadequate to protect our citizens.”

Readers of The Pump Handle may recognize the Houston Lyondell Chemical refinery as the site of the 30-story crane collapse on July 18 at which four workers–Marion “Scooter” Hubert Odom III, 41, of Highlands; John D. Henry, 33, of Dayton; Daniel “DJ” Lee Johnson, 30, of Dayton; and Rocky Dale Strength, 30, of Santa Fe, Texas—where killed.  The men had been employed by Deep South Crane and Rigging.  Seven other workers were injured in the collapse.  (More on this crane disaster.)  Federal OSHA is investigating the incident and if violations of safety and health standards are identified, the citations and monetary penalties will be issued before January 18, 2009.

4 thoughts on “Houston Mayor Sick and Tired of Benzene Emissions

  1. Celeste, there’s another perspective here. When the Mayor’s own task force on air quality identified a plethora of pollutants and sources contributing to Houston’s air quality problem, what does he hope to achieve by singling out Lyondell? I suppose it’s a start, but I would defy anyone to show that Lyondell reducing its emissions to zero would result in any meaningful reduction in benzene exposure, particularly if nothing is done about the area and mobile source emissions. I suppose it’s a start to compel Lyondell to reduce benzene emissions (low emissions is a sign that you’re committed to best industrial practices), but at the same time, couldn’t Mayor White also ask Houstonians not to drive their cars so much?

  2. Hmmm….I see your point, but how many automobile and truck miles would have to be reduced in order to match a significant reduction in Lyondell’s emissions?

    I hope the Mayor’s attention to Lyondell is followed by similiar attention to other major industrial polluters in the Houston area.

  3. JLowe says, “Race to the bottom, don’t race to the top.” With an attitude like that nothing will ever get done. You have to start SOMEWHERE. Insisting that everything be cleaned up all at once in the interest of fairness is just a ploy to avoid any serious attempt to attack the problem.

  4. JLowe,

    Benzene is a known carcinogen, and Lyondell is releasing at least 39 tons annually. In 1994, the state of California estimated that 15% of benzene emissions were from point sources (as opposed to mobile sources). Mobile sources (automobiles) are regulated on a number of levels, and benzene emissions have decreased since 1994.

    Chemical plants are the largest point sources for benzene, and this one (Lyondell) is performing below the industry average.

    I think Bill Wight is right on target with his challenge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.