Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.


1,3-butadiene is a gas made from petroleum and is used to manufacture materials like synthetic rubber and plastics. Because it is a gas, 1,3-butadiene can easily leak out of production, storage, or disposal containers and enter the air. People who work in or live near facilities using 1,3-butadiene are most at risk of inhaling it, but even people in heavily polluted cities breathe air with 1,3-butadiene in it. Exposure to 1,3-butadiene can cause cardiovascular, neurological, lung, and blood defects. It is also suspected to cause birth defects and decreased birth weight. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and International Agency for Research on Cancer have all determined that 1,3-butadiene causes cancer. Studies of people who worked in facilities using 1,3-butadiene found that they had increased incidence of blood and immune system cancers compared to the general population.

In November 2019, multiple fires and explosions occurred at a facility manufacturing 1,3-butadiene in Port Neches, Texas. There was a mandatory two-day evacuation of residents within 4 miles of the site, but soon after they were allowed to return, residents received another evacuation order because conditions had not improved. The facility, owned by Texas Petroleum Chemicals Group (TPC Group) had a long history of violating state and federal air emissions regulations. It released more air pollution than allowed by its permits on 6 occasions in 2019 and over 70 times in the last decade. TPC Group was fined for these violations, but these fines were clearly not a deterrent to the corporation breaking the rules and endangering the health of surrounding residents. In fact, in a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency after releasing huge amounts of 1,3-butadiene in the air in 2017, TPC Group was required to monitor 1,3-butadiene levels. That’s how a 2020 report found that in the months leading up to the explosions, the facility started releasing massive amounts of 1,3-butadiene into the air. Because chemicals in the air can travel large distances, we don’t know how many people may have been exposed to his cancer-causing agent because of TPC Group’s disregard for regulations. The current system of monitoring emissions and imposing nominal fines on facilities that exceed them is not working to keep people safe. Tougher regulations, harsher penalties, and revocation of permits must be considered as we fight to protect communities from corporations using harmful chemicals.

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