The plastic resin manufacturing industry probably emits five times more of some major pollutants than it reports to the federal government, according to a study from two environmental groups.
The June 22 study from the Environmental Integrity Project and a Houston-area group said it took data developed by Texas state regulators about gaps in reporting of air emissions and for the first time applied it nationwide to four industries, including plastic resin manufacturing.
The study said that the resin manufacturing industry reported emitting 32.8 million tons of 10 key hydrocarbon pollutants in 2001, including carcinogens such as benzene and 1,3 butadiene. But the study said the industry actually emitted 174.2 million tons, using adjustments developed by Texas regulators.
The problem, according to the study, is that official emissions figures reported by companies to the Environmental Protection Agency are estimates based on EPA formulas, and are not measurements of actual emissions.
Washington-based EIP and the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, which co-authored the report, said EPA needs to require monitoring of actual emissions. The public is being exposed to much more pollution than government figures indicate, EIP said.
``Our point isn't so much that industry is evading requirements,'' said EIP lawyer Kelly Haragan. ``They are underreporting, but it's because of EPA's emissions factors. [EPA rules] let people use calculations instead of actual monitors.''
EPA's spokeswoman for emissions issues did not respond to requests for comment. But the chemical industry and Texas regulators questioned the study.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the group that developed the adjustment factors EIP used, said they should not be applied nationwide.
``While we have not reviewed the report nor the methodology, we do not believe the formula used in Texas to estimate the amount of highly reactive volatile organic compounds in Houston can be accurately applied to other parts of the state, other states, or other compounds reported in the Toxic Release Inventory,'' the agency said. TCEQ declined additional comment.
Haragan said EIP is not claiming the methodology is a perfect fit for other places, but she said the problem deserves more attention.
John Wilson, GHASP executive director and one of the report's co-authors, said the chemical and petroleum refining industries nationwide use the same EPA emissions formulas as Texas firms. He said he has not seen any information suggesting industry in other parts of the country operate differently.
He said TCEQ is using several of its adjustment factors in making new rules for Houston-area plants.
A spokesman for the Texas Chemical Commission in Austin said the TCEQ adjustments were developed for modeling ozone levels in Houston, not broadly evaluating emissions data. Jon Fisher, TCC's senior vice president, said, ``It's questionable to take something that's used in one context and apply it in another.''
But Fisher did say that there is evidence that emissions of some chemicals are underreported. He said TCEQ developed the adjustment factors when it found that some monitoring data for Houston did not match reported emissions.
``There is some feeling that there is more ethylene and propylene and some of those substances out there in greater amounts than previously thought,'' Fisher said.
He said it would be very expensive to require monitoring of actual pollution levels, considering the information that would be gained. TCC is not opposed to spending money to gather information.
Others have raised potential red flags with EPA's emissions calculations. A 2001 report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said that EPA rated 46 percent of its 12.400 emissions factors as coming from either below-average or poor-quality data.
The report comes as the EPA released new data on emissions as part of its annual Toxics Release Inventory report. The report said emissions rose 5 percent in 2002 across all industries, which the agency said largely is attributable to rising emissions from one copper smelter.
EIP was founded in 2002 by Eric Schaeffer, the former director of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement who resigned because of differences with the Bush administration on Clean Air Act enforcement.