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An oil refinery in southeast New Mexico is one of 10 facilities in the country releasing high levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene, a report said.

The HollyFrontier Navajo oil refinery in Artesia is emitting benzene levels four times the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.
Refineries with chemical levels above the federal action level are not violating federal law, but must take action to reduce the pollution, officials said.

“These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices to reduce the leakage of this cancer-causing pollutant into local communities,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy organization for environmental regulations.

More than 3,000 people live within a mile of the refinery, officials said.

“Businesses are located directly across the road from the fenceline, and Roselawn Elementary School is located just 0.2 miles directly west of the highest reading monitor,” the report said.

The Journal reports that “although fenceline levels are high, federal data shows total benzene emissions from the Artesia refinery — which are due to normal production or equipment malfunctions — have dropped dramatically since 2020.”

HollyFrontier issued a statement to the Albuquerque Journal, which reads, in part: “As part of our efforts, HollyFrontier permanently removed a tank from service that was found to be the primary cause of elevated levels at the fenceline. Since September 2019, the two-week sample data from a monitoring station near the out-of-service tank has averaged 2.2 micrograms per cubic meter, which is well below EPA’s action level of 9 micrograms […] We recognize it is a privilege to operate in Artesia, where the Navajo facility has been a critical part of the community for 50 years.”

Benzene is found in crude oil and used to manufacture plastics and pesticides, officials said.
Prolonged exposure to the chemical can damage bone marrow, decrease red blood cells and lead to cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The information above was originally reported by the Albuquerque Journal and distributed statewide and nationally on the Associated Press wire. The Daily Press has reached out to HollyFrontier with an opportunity to comment on the report and subsequent news coverage, and has been assured that a representative will be in contact in the coming days.)