Formosa Plastics required to follow new federal air pollution regs. designed to protect public health

— Formosa Plastics wants to build a massive petrochemical complex with 14 facilities that make single-use plastic products. Even though the facility is not yet built, the company must renew its operating permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. Since Formosa Plastics last applied for these permits in 2020, there are updated federal rules for deadly and dangerous soot pollution — also known as PM2.5 or fine particulate matter pollution. New engineering models of Formosa’s air pollution show that if the facility is built, it will increase soot air pollution beyond legally allowable limits meant to protect public health.

A recent report from the Health Effects Institute found that, in 2021, air pollution was to blame for more than 8 million deaths globally. PM2.5 pollution is to blame for more than 90% of global air pollution deaths.

Using Formosa Plastics’ own data, Wingra Engineering produced a cumulative impact report which found the air in St. James Parish and vicinity is already heavily saturated with PM2.5 emissions, especially in violation of the soot standard that protects residents against long-term impacts from exposure to soot of a year or more. The report also found violations of the national short-term exposure standard for soot in 18 pockets across the same area. Formosa Plastics would worsen many of these violations.

St. James Parish already suffers from some of the poorest air quality in the nation. Local residents have raised public health concerns for decades. The new modeling confirms their concern that the region is already oversaturated, finding extensive violations of health-based standards for soot when including all sources of pollution in the area, as well as Formosa Plastics’ proposed emissions. And it clarifies that if built, Formosa Plastics’ massive amount of proposed soot pollution would make air quality significantly worse than it already is.

“The findings from this new modeling are deeply concerning for our community, said Sharon Lavigne, Founder & Director, RISE St. James. “As a mother and a grandmother, I worry everyday about the air our children are breathing. St. James Parish already suffers from poor air quality, and Formosa Plastics’ proposed complex would make it even worse. We must protect our families and ensure that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality works for the people.”

Federal public health standards must be upheld for Formosa to be granted its operating permit, and if they cannot be upheld, then the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) must deny their Title V operating permit.

“This modeling makes it clear that LDEQ must substantially reduce Formosa Plastics’ soot pollution or deny its application to renew its expiring air permits altogether to comply with the Clean Air Act and state law,” says Michael Brown, senior attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm. “And just as importantly, LDEQ must clean up the air in St. James Parish which is already choked with unhealthy levels of soot pollution from existing industrial sources. LDEQ has dragged its feet for many years while residents have suffered, and if LDEQ is unwilling to act, then the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to step in.”

Cumulative impacts on air quality from oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities in the region known as Cancer Alley are of particular concern to residents. The Wingra Engineering report performs cumulative impact computer modeling using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved methods and software, showing the combined effects of Formosa Plastics’ and other industrial sources’ emissions of PM2.5 on the surrounding area’s air quality for soot. It relies entirely on Formosa Plastics’ own data and assumptions that the company submitted to LDEQ as part of its application. Earthjustice submitted a comment letter and the expert air modeling report on behalf of RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Healthy Gulf, and Earthworks imploring LDEQ to uphold its legal obligation to address the wider air quality violations in St. James Parish to bring the region into compliance.

Background

Particulate matter, or soot pollution, is one of the criteria pollutants that EPA closely regulates for human health. In February of 2024, EPA announced that it was lowering the allowable levels of PM2.5 in ambient air, a measure that would save Americans a lot of money. In fact, the EPA projects “for every $1 spent from this action, there could be as much as $77 in human health benefits in 2032.”

Exposure to, and inhalation of, soot leads to increased mortality rates, hospitalizations, and visits to the emergency room. It is also linked to grave illnesses and health risks including asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke, heart disease, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, low birth weight, greater risk of preterm birth, and higher rates of infant mortality.

A ecent [sic] study found that rsoot [sic] or fine particulate matter causes between 85,000-200,000 deaths every year. According to the American Lung Association, 63 million Americans experience unhealthy spikes in daily soot, or particle pollution, and more than 20 million Americans experience dangerous levels of soot pollution on a year-round basis.

Source: “Formosa Plastics Must Follow New Federal Pollution Rules Designed to Keep People Healthy,” Jun. 28, 2024 Earthjustice press release.

Updated: Jul. 9, 2024 at 6:47 a.m. PDT.

Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: Alejandro Dávila Fragoso / Earthjustice

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