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February 12, 2007
Also appeared in print February 19, 2007, p. 8


Less Benzene In Gasoline

EPA rule aims to cut toxic emissions from cars

Cheryl Hogue

Gasoline sold in the U.S. will have less benzene, a known human carcinogen, starting in 2011, under a rule announced by EPA on Feb. 9.

The rule also sets new standards for emissions from passenger cars and trucks and for evaporation from portable gas cans.

EPA says the new controls will significantly cut hazardous air pollutants—notably benzene but also 1,3-butadiene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and naphthalene—that are emitted from vehicles. Cars and trucks are the major source of benzene in air, contributing 70% of the releases of this chemical nationwide in 1999, EPA notes.

The new rule limits the benzene content of gasoline to an annual refinery average of 0.62% by volume by 2011. Stricter limits on emissions of hydrocarbons from new passenger vehicles will be phased in from 2010 to 2015. Standards for portable gas cans will take effect in 2009.

EPA says the rule will cost an average of 0.27 cents per gal of gasoline, reflecting the average $14 million in capital investment needed at each refinery to reduce benzene levels in gasoline. The rule will add less than $1.00 to the cost of a new vehicle and less than $2.00 per gas can. According to the rule, reduced evaporation from gas cans due to the new standards "will result in fuel savings that will more than offset the increased cost" for the can.

Environmental activists, who sued EPA to issue the regulation after the agency missed statutory deadlines, are generally pleased with the rule, though they are troubled by one provision. The rule allows refineries that reduce their gasoline's benzene levels to below the new standard to sell "credits" to refineries that can't meet the limit. Environmental groups fear this will lead to uneven implementation of the rule across the nation, causing residents in some areas to be exposed to more benzene than residents in other areas.

"Having benzene levels go down in Newark, N.J., won't do much for the health of the people in Portland, Ore.," if credits from New Jersey companies get sold to Pacific Northwest refiners, says Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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