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Experts: EPA chemical plant emissions rule a win for WV communities

Nadia Ramlagan

Chemical plants in West Virginia and other states will be required to curb emissions of toxic, cancer causing pollutants – such as ethylene oxide, chloroprene and other chemicals – under a new Environmental Protection Agency rule.

Hundreds of facilities, most located near low-income or communities of color, will also have to collect air pollution data and submit it to the EPA.

The data will also be made available to communities, which Jeremy Symons – a senior advisor with the Environmental Protection Network – said is an important tool for transparency and environmental justice.

“Not only will this action by EPA reduce these dangerous toxic air pollutants by 96%,” said Symons, “but they’re also going to require chemical plants to install fenceline air-pollution monitors.”

Research has shown that long-term exposure to ethylene oxide and chloroprene can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer and liver cancer.

Children are particularly at risk.

The Biden administration says the rule will slash more than 6,200 tons of toxic air pollution each year in affected regions.

Symons, a former EPA advisor, said the rules come after years of work by local community members and environmental organizations that have sounded the alarm on the impact of deadly air pollution.

“There’s been especially high cancer rates in these communities,” said Symons. “So it’s really significant that EPA has taken action and gone into the communities that have not been protected as much as they should be in the past.”

A handful of companies in West Virginia – including Chemours, Koppers and Altivia – will have to comply with the new rules.

Investigative reporting published in 2021 by Mountain State Spotlight and ProPublica have revealed how toxic chemical pollution has harmed the state’s majority Black communities.