The US Environmental Protection Agency agreed to review and possibly propose new emission standards by next December for the synthetic organic chemical manufacturing industry as part of a proposed consent decree filed in US district court in Washington. DC.

The agency may also determine there is no need for updated rules.

The consent decree agreement would resolve a lawsuit filed a year ago by environmental groups claiming that the agency was obligated to review regulations for the sector every eight years. In such reviews it must consider new developments in “practices, processes, and control technologies,” particularly related to health risks posed by ethylene oxide and other hazardous pollutants released by plants.

District Judge Richard Leon has 30 days to approve the deal.

“After an updated national assessment revealed extreme cancer risk hot spots in 2018, EPA failed to follow up on a commitment to carry out the reviews,” said the complaint, filed by Texas Justice Advocacy Services and other groups.

Chemical plants in these source categories are major sources of “highly hazardous air pollutants” that contribute to cancer risk hot spots in Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia and other states, the complaint said.

Synthetic organic chemicals, which are compounds that contain a carbon atom, include atrazine, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

“Communities exposed to these chemical plants’ emissions, who are disproportionately communities of color and low-income, need EPA to fulfill its overdue legal obligations to review and revise the emission standards, and performance standards applicable to these facilities, so they can finally breathe clean and healthy air,” the complaint says.

The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA to “review and revise as necessary” emission standards for hazardous air pollutants at least every eight years to review health and environmental risks that remain under existing standards, and propose new ones to protect public health and the environment—or determine "that such standards are not required,” the complaint says. More than eight years has passed. 

The synthetic organic chemical manufacturing industry is regulated by the New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for hazardous air pollutants. 

Other lawsuit plaintiffs are California Communities Against Toxics, Environmental Integrity Project, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, RISE St. James and Sierra Club

Under the consent decree, EPA will review the new source point standard for the plants by Dec. 16, 2022 and issue a final rule by March 29, 2024.