Three of Exxon’s refineries on US list of biggest polluters

Three of Exxon’s refineries on US list of biggest polluters
The company’s facility in Baton Rouge is the worst soot polluter in the country

Three Exxon Mobil oil refineries are pumping out eight times more than the average rate of soot pollutants than similarly-sized facilities operated by rival companies, according to a recent report.

Reuters analysed the results of a pollution test and found that the oil giant‘s three largest refineries – two in Texas and one in Louisiana – are the country’s top three emitters of small particulate matter.

The refineries averaged emissions of 80 pounds per hour, which is eight times more than the average rate of similar refineries. The top polluter is Exxon’s Baton Rouge refinery, which averages 138 pounds per hour.

Wilma Subra, a Louisiana-based scientist who used to serve on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, said the results reflect Exxon’s failure to invest in emissions reduction.

“Exxon has all the resources in the world to lower its pollution rates dramatically,” she said.

The company has long been a target for reform from climate activists, and recently lost two seats on its board of directors to an activist hedge fund that is aiming to force the firm to make climate change-focused reforms.

Exxon issued a statement saying that it tried to comply with environmental laws and that it has invested billions of dollars trying to reduce its emissions over the last two decades.

Activists have also noted that oil and gas pollution hurts poor and minority communities at a disproportional rate when compared to affluent or white communities. Those communities tend to be located closer to production facilities – like Exxon’s refineries – and as a result are more impacted by the pollution they produce.

The neighbourhoods near Exxon’s Baton Rouge refinery are primarily Black, and a third of the residents reported having breathing problems or knowing someone who did.

Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington DC based watchdog group, said that the kind of pollution produced by facilities like Exxon’s, are among the most harmful to humans.

“Particulate matter pollution is deadly, but you’re not going to see it written on anyone’s tombstone,” he said.

The small particulate matter produced by the refineries are generally 50 times smaller than a grain of sand and can bond with other toxins. The tiny size of the particulates can enter the blood stream and damage human organs like the lungs as well as the heart and the nervous system.

Even small increases in long-term exposure to the particulate matter can lead to sizable increases in Covid-19 death rates, according to Harvard University.

Most plants cannot pollute at the rate of Exxon’s plants due to EPA regulations, but the company’s Baton Rouge plant is exempt because it was built before 1976, and has not been modified since.

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