Key findings

  • “Upset” emissions – which often occur when equipment breaks down or due to “unavoidable” accidents – are occurring more often than government reports reflect, impacting residents on the fence line of industry, The Center for Public Integrity found.
  • Over the last five years in Texas, the nation’s refinery hub, upset events have yielded almost four million pounds of toxic air pollutants.
  • From 2007-11, the largest facilities across Texas spewed almost 180 million pounds of upset emissions, contamination on top of the 14.8 billion pounds of routine air emissions.
  • Frequently, state regulators — the primary enforcers of the Clean Air Act — fail to investigate the thousands of reports of emissions events they receive. When regulators do act, punishment is often light.
  • Pollution from upsets is likely even greater than the data suggests. Regulators rely on an honor system easily exploited by companies, which report their incidents.