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Chalmette Refining Releases Excessive Levels Of Cancer-Causing Gas, Report Says

Environmental Integrity Project
Aerial view of Chalmette Refining facility and the location of fenceline monitors

A Louisiana refinery is one of 10 across the country that is releasing excessive levels benzene into nearby communities, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and other environmental groups.

Chalmette Refining recorded the eighth-highest emission levels of cancer-causing gas in the nation. 

The findings are based on fenceline monitoring data collected by refineries and tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Facilities whose benzene emissions exceed an average of 9 micrograms per cubic meter over a year are required to take corrective actions. 

As of September, Chalmette Refining’s average annual benzene emissions were 12.3 micrograms per cubic meter. 

The company noted on its website that its emissions levels did not violate state or federal law, and that is changing its refining processes to meet EPA standards.

Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Advocate reports that PBF Energy, Chalmette Refining’s parent company, outlined their planned corrective measures in a letter to the state Department of Environmental Quality in November. PBF Energy said those changes will be completed by March 31. 

Anne Rolfes, founder and executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said it should not require federal intervention for Chalmette Refining to take action on a cancer causing chemical like benzene.

“Chalmette Refining’s reckless release of benzene threatens people who live in the neighborhood right across the street, and a school less than a mile away,” Rolfes said.

Legal action by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and other environmental groups prompted the EPA to impose stricter air quality regulations in 2015. The federal agency began monitoring benzene emissions at refinery fencelines in 2018.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, exposure to the colorless gas can cause vomiting, headaches, anemia, increased risk of cancer, and, in high enough doses, death.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.