U.S. oil refineries may have to comply with new, more stringent regulation regarding toxic emissions from flares, storage tanks and other similar sources, if rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are approved.

The move follows an extensive public consultation period in which the federal regulator gathered evidence from community groups, local authorities and the industry on the effect of toxic emissions on residential areas located near refineries. Exposure to such emissions, particularly to benzene, could increase the risk of developing cancer and lead to other health problems, including respiratory problems.

Under the new rules, refineries will have to monitor the concentration of benzene at their fence line and make the data available to the public. In addition, refineries will be required to upgrade emission controls on their storage tanks and will have to comply with new performance requirements for flares, among other rules.

The EPA defined its proposal as "common sense" and noted that it would help reduce pollution from flaring by introducing additional monitoring requirements. Once the rules come into full effect, refineries will be releasing an estimated 5,600 tons of toxic air emissions less every year. The rules should be finalized by April 2015, with little or no effect on the cost of petroleum products for consumers manufactured by refineries around the country, the agency said.