US EPA targets producers of nine toxic chemicals

Emissions, Petrochemicals, Policy, Shareholder Engagement, Transparency & Traceability, Multi-Asset
YouTube player

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Final Rule for Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturing Plants & Polymers & Resins. The aim of this rule is to reduce cancer and serious health effects from toxic air pollutants and smog-forming compounds. This is relevant to financial markets which are seeing externalities being converted into internal costs for corporates. Financial models may need reassessing.

What’s happened?

The US EPA has finalised its amendments to the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for those parts which apply to the synthetic organic chemical manufacturing industry (SOCMI) and to equipment leaks from certain non-SOCMI processes located at chemical plants, but also for subparts that apply to polymers and resins, and new Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for emission reductions for volatile organic chemicals (VOC) from certain operations (e.g. distillation operations).i

The EPA estimates this will impact over 200 US chemical plants and provide health protections to 9.3 million people who live within 10km of these facilities.ii

Key Takeaways from the Final Ruleiii

  1. Emission reductions: the EPA has calculated that this rule “will keep more than 6,200 tons of air toxics out of the air each year”, notably for ethylene oxide and chloroprene, resulting in an 80% reduction. Smog forming emissions (VOCs) will also be reduced (by 23,000 tons pa).
  2. Human health impacts: the EPA anticipates that those harmed by living close to chemical plants, which emit these toxins, will be reduced by 96%.
  3. Facility impact: chemical plants which are new or modified must comply when the rule takes effect (i.e. 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register), or they begin operations. Existing facilities have different compliance deadlines.
  4. Pollutant monitoring: chemical plants that use, store, or emit ethylene oxide, chloroprene, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride or vinyl chloride will be required to monitor the air at their fence line.

Almost 53,000 tonnes of the nine main chemicals impacted by the regulation have been released to air between 2012 and 2021 by over 600 companies and 1,900 facilities across the US. See 1 for the list of chemicals and health impacts, and 1 for the annual and cumulative releases of the nine chemicals.

Table 1: Main products impacted, their main uses and health impacts

Compound Uses Health impacts short & long term exposure
Ethylene oxide A chemical intermediate in the manufacture of ethylene glycol (antifreeze), textiles, detergents, polyurethane foam, solvents, medicine, adhesives Short term: Central nervous system (CNS) depression and irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes.

Long term: irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, and damage to the brain and nervous system with reproductive effects. Viewed as carcinogenic to humans.

Chloroprene Used in the manufacture of polychloroprene (e.g., Neoprene),

which is used to make products requiring chemical, oil, and/or weather resistance (e.g., adhesives, automotive and industrial parts), sealants, and flame-resistant cushioning.

Short term: headache, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, fatigue, respiratory irritation, cardiac palpitations, chest pains, nausea, dermatitis, and corneal necrosis.

Long term: fatigue, chest pains, irritability, dermatitis, and hair loss. Also changes to the nervous system and the cardio-vascular system, and depression of the immune system. Also evidence of

liver cancer. EPA rate it as likely to be carcinogenic.

Benzene A constituent in motor fuels Short term: neurological symptoms (e.g. drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and

Unconsciousness). Can also cause eye, skin, and upper respiratory tract irritation.

Long term: blood disorders, such as preleukemia and aplastic anaemia. Known human carcinogen by all routes of exposure.

1,3-Butadiene Used in the production of styrene-butadiene rubber, plastics, and

thermoplastic resins.

There are no human data on

Reproductive or developmental effects, only in mice. Epidemiological studies have shown an association an increased

incidence of leukaemia. Viewed as carcinogenic to humans.

Ethylene dichloride (1,2-dichloroethane) Used the production of vinyl chloride as well as other chemicals. Short term: effects nervous system, liver, and kidneys, as well as respiratory distress and cardiac arrhythmia.

Long term: no information is available on effects in humans. EPA views it as a probable human carcinogen.

Vinyl chloride Used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and

vinyl products.

Short term: CNS effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches.

Long term: CNS effects, liver damage, and increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver. Viewed as carcinogenic to humans.

Chlorine Used in many industrial practices, including the manufacturing of paper, plastic and chemical products. It is also widely used in the municipal treatment of sewage and drinking water, pool chemical products, cleaning products, and mining products Short term: Potent irritant to the eyes and respiratory tract.

Long term: respiratory effects, including eye and throat irritation and airflow obstruction. May cause damage to lungs Not assessed for carcinogenicity by EPA.

Maleic anhydride Used in the formulation of resins. Short term: irritation of the respiratory tract and eyes. Long term: chronic bronchitis, asthma-like attacks, and upper respiratory tract and eye irritation. Untested by EPA for carcinogenicity.
Acrolein An intermediate in the synthesis of acrylic acid and as a biocide Short term: upper respiratory tract irritation and congestion.

Long term: general respiratory congestion and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Toxic to humans. Carcinogenicity undetermined for lack of data.

Note that in addition to the compounds listed above other toxic compounds might be affected by this rule.

Sources: EPA Health Effects Notebook for Hazardous Air Pollutantsiv

and EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) databasev

Figure 1: Releases to air of the nine chemicals listed in Table 1 between 2012 and 2021 across the US

Why did this happen?

The US EPA provides a reasoning for this tightening in emissions. It states, “Many regulations are promulgated to correct market failures, which otherwise lead to a suboptimal allocation of resources within a market. Air quality and pollution control regulations address “negative externalities” whereby the market does not internalize the full opportunity cost of production borne by society as public goods such as air quality are unpriced”.vi

The costs of poor air quality and pollution include negative health and welfare impacts, which are often borne not by the polluter, but society as a whole. This should change.

Planet Tracker’s Toxic Footprints Dashboards

Planet Tracker’s ‘Toxic Footprints USA’, released in July 2022 along with a data dashboard, can help investors identify their exposure to toxic releases by facility. 2 shows the top three polluters for each of the chemicals impacted by this regulation and their top shareholders. In Planet Tracker’s data dashboard, you can see the locations of all the facilities emitting these chemicals, as well as over 200 other chemicals made by 76 petrochemical companies.

Table 2: Top 3 polluters of newly regulated compounds and their shareholders (Source: Planet Tracker, 2022)


total releases by petrochemical facilities in Louisiana and Texas (2019 lbs)

Top 3 Petrochemical Polluters

(releases, 2019 lbs)

Top 3 Shareholders

(2019 USD millions)

Ethylene dichloride (1,2-dichloroethane)

(93.6 million)

Westlake Chemical (62.5 million)

Occidental Petroleum (14.7 million)

Olin Corp (10.4 million)

TTWF (7,995)

Vanguard (2,523)

BlackRock (1,755)


(63.7 million)

Westlake Chemical (49.5 million)

Olin Corp (6.2 million)

Occidental Petroleum (5.8 million)

TTWF (7,995)

Vanguard (2,523)

BlackRock (1,755)

Vinyl chloride

(30.7 million)

Westlake Chemical (11.8 million)

Formosa Plastics (7.9 million)

Huntsman Corp (5.3 million)

TTWF (7,995)

Vanguard (1,275)

Chang Gung Medical Foundation (1,227)


(19.2 million)

LyondellBasell (6.9 million)

Exxon Mobil (2.5 million)

Westlake Chemical (1.5 million)

Vanguard (23,795)

BlackRock (17,591)

State Street (16,397)


(21.4 million)

Dow (3.1 million)

LyondellBasell (2.4 million)

Marathon Petroleum (2.3 million)

Vanguard (10,103)

BlackRock (8,358)

AI International Chemicals (7,943)

Maleic anhydride

(4.2 million)

Exxon Mobil (2.2 million)

Dow (1.5 million)

NewMarket Corp (0.2 million)

Vanguard (25,169)

BlackRock (18,474)

State Street (17,645)


(2.9 million)

Dow (0.98 million)

BASF (0.68 million)

Arkema (0.54 million)

BlackRock (9,014)

Vanguard (5,895)

State Street (2,552)

Ethylene oxide

(2.8 million)

Dow (1.3 million)

Westlake Chemical (0.48 million)

Huntsman Corp (0.35 million)

TTWF (7,995)

Vanguard (4,685)

BlackRock (3,080)


(1.1 million)

Formosa Plastics (0.64 million)

Westlake Chemical (0.42 million)

Occidental Petroleum (<0.01 million)

TTWF (7,995)

Vanguard (2,108)

Dodge & Cox (1,706)

Also, for investors wishing to examine corporate and facility emission exposure in Europe, they may view Planet Tracker’s ‘Toxic Footprints Europe’ and the associated dashboard.

Related Content

The latest reports to your inbox

Don’t miss out! To receive Planet Tracker's reports just click below and complete the contact form.

Sign up