The number of American oil refineries surpassing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action standard for benzene has decreased by half since 2020, according to recent research by the Environmental Integrity Project, marking a significant victory in the battle against air pollution. In terms of lowering the amount of cancer-causing agents in the air around these plants, this is a major step forward. The report does, however, also draw attention to persistent issues, particularly in Texas refineries. 

Significant Findings: 

The number of refineries that exceeded the EPA’s yearly action limit for benzene dropped dramatically from 12 in 2020 to just 6 in 2023. When the action level is surpassed, which set in 2015 at nine micrograms per cubic meter, remedial action is required. Among these actions include locating and reducing the sources of emissions of benzene. The decline in the number of refineries that do not comply with regulations highlights the efficacy of regulatory actions and the dedication of several establishments to operating more cleanly. 

The research does, however, also show that not all places have advanced to the same degree. One among the six refineries in Houston considered the “energy hub of the nation,” continues to produce more benzene than the EPA allows.  In 2023, benzene levels at the Pemex Deer Park Refinery in Houston were recorded at 17.3 micrograms per cubic meter, which is almost twice the EPA’s action standard. The surrounding population has dealing with a continuous problem due to rising benzene levels at this refinery, which previously operated by Shell, for the past 2.5 years. 

Since monitoring started in January 2019, the Total Refineries in Port Arthur, another refinery in Texas, has continuously outperformed the EPA’s action level. This emphasizes how crucial it is to have stronger enforcement of regulations and ongoing monitoring to guarantee compliance. 


Benzene is present in oil, gas, and petroleum products, which is extremely dangerous to human health. Short-term exposure can result in headaches, lightheadedness, and respiratory problems; long-term exposure can cause cancer, blood abnormalities, and reproductive harm. For this reason, lowering benzene emissions is essential to safeguarding public health, especially for areas where refineries are located. 

The Environmental Integrity Project’s executive director, Eric Schaeffer, commended the effectiveness of the restrictions, saying that “requiring companies to find and fix benzene pollution sources and to reveal their fenceline monitoring results appears to be working.” The advancements have been largely fueled by this accountability and transparency. 

The Effects of Benzene Laws and Future  Prospects:

Fenceline surveillance for benzene also mandated under the 2015 EPA benzene standard, and it had to be put into place at several refineries and chemical companies by 2018. By detecting the amount of pollutants at a facility’s boundary, fenceline monitoring provides vital information on emissions that have an impact on nearby communities. This method is successful in locating the sources of pollution and instigating remedial measures.

While there has been a lot of progress, the Environmental Integrity Project research points out that certain refineries have lowered their benzene readings because their onsite monitoring strategies take into consideration recognized onsite or offsite sources that contribute to the emissions. This suggests that even while overall compliance is increasing, underreporting or incomplete accounting of emissions may persist in some locations. 

The EPA extended its fenceline monitoring regulations to more than 200 chemical businesses in April 2023. Six pollutants are the focus of this expansion, which made possible by the Clean Air Act: vinyl chloride, ethylene oxide, 1,3-butadiene, benzene, and chloroprene. According to EPA projections, this rule will shield the health of surrounding citizens and lower their risk of cancer by reducing hazardous pollutants in the air near these refineries by about 6,200 tons yearly. 

“Hopefully, the broadening of fenceline surveillance will result in even further manufacturing plants feeling obliged to reduce their spewing of hazardous air pollutants into communities nearby, given the efficacy of the benzene detection program,” Schaeffer said. It is hoped that other dangerous contaminants would have a similar beneficial effect to that of benzene. 

Role of Environmental Organizations and Communities:

Environmental organizations have been instrumental in advocating for more stringent laws and increased openness. Through their support of laws requiring the public release of emission monitoring data, these organizations have contributed to the accountability of refineries for their emissions. The efficacy of the benzene observation program serves as evidence of the ability of knowledgeable and involved communities to propel environmental advancements. 

Organizers such as Juan Flores and his associates at Air Alliance Houston are dedicated to resolving the persistent issues that communities surrounding refineries face. Their initiatives serve as a reminder of how crucial neighborhood activism is to attaining environmental justice. “To address high benzene levels, localities like the ones in Deer Park and Galena Park need ongoing backing and action,” Flores said, highlighting the necessity of persistent measures to safeguard vulnerable populations.

Assisting Affected Communities:  

Communities that are close to chemical factories and refineries frequently suffer the most from pollution and its negative effects on health. Ensuring environmental justice necessitates supporting these communities. This covers money for community participation programs, air quality tracking, and health research. 

Health disparities can be addressed and quality of life can be enhanced through programs that provide assistance and resources to impacted populations. Community air monitoring systems, for instance, can give citizens access to real-time data on air quality, enabling them to take preventative measures to safeguard their health. Outreach and health education programs can encourage preventive measures and increase public knowledge of the dangers of pollution. 


An important milestone in the continuous fight to lower air pollution and safeguard human health is the reduction of benzene levels at American refineries between 2020 and 2023. Still, the ongoing difficulties encountered by certain refineries especially those in Texas, highlight the necessity of ongoing action and attention to detail. We may capitalize on this victory and guarantee a more sustainable future for every accountability, putting resources into technology, and tightening rules. To build on this accomplishment and guarantee an improved environment for everybody, we can increase monitoring, assist impacted communities, encourage transparency, invest in technology, and tighten rules.

The benzene observation program has taught us valuable lessons that can direct future efforts to tackle other dangerous contaminants. All the people who live close to industrial sites can have an equitable and sustainable future if we continue to prioritize sustainability and community health.