Analysis: Nearly 1 Million Pounds of Seven Deadly Air Pollutants Released by Texas Refineries During Harvey Floods

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Analysis: Nearly 1 Million Pounds of Seven Deadly Air Pollutants Released by Texas Refineries During Harvey Floods

HOUSTON - Refineries and petrochemical plants in south Texas released nearly 1 million pounds of seven especially dangerous air pollutants during flaring and chemical spills triggered by Hurricane Harvey, according to a new Center for Biological Diversity analysis of industry data.

Staggering amounts of benzene, 1,3-butadiene, hexane, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, toluene and xylene — estimated at 951,000 pounds so far — were emitted during Harvey-related flooding by several dozen petroleum industry facilities operated by Chevron Phillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell and other companies. These seven chemicals are all toxic air pollutants documented to cause serious harms to human health, and several cause cancer.

“Oil-industry facilities spewed thousands of tons of toxic chemicals into defenseless communities, despite ample warning about hurricane risk to this area,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center scientist who compiled the analysis. “Dangerous flaring from coastal refineries has become routine during major storms. The petroleum industry seems utterly unwilling to take responsibility for operating safely, even as climate change makes storms like Harvey more destructive.”  

Today’s analysis is based on initial industry reports to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality through Aug. 31, and these numbers are expected to grow. While some of the toxic emissions were caused by storm damage, including tank roof failures at six facilities, the majority of emissions were caused by refinery and chemical plant shutdown and startup procedures that used flaring.

Below are the seven dangerous air pollutants released by Texas petroleum industry facilities during Harvey.

A summary of the TCEQ data for these seven chemicals can be found here.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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