Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules for chemical facilities under the Risk Management Program (RMP) which directs the EPA to prevent explosions, fires and other dangerous industrial disasters that put thousands of communities at risk. Among other things, the proposed revisions to the rule address climate risks such as hurricanes and unprecedented flooding, require the evaluation of common sense measures such as backup power to avoid releases in the event of a power outage. , require the evaluation of safer technologies in some of the most hazardous installations. , expand worker participation in safety planning and disaster prevention, and provide community notification of toxic releases and access to certain hazard information for most affected community members.
Chemical disasters are a serious problem in the United States. 177 million people in the United States live in the worst-case scenario zone for a chemical disaster. More than 140 fires, explosions or other hazardous chemical incidents occur each year at industrial facilities, according to EPA data from 2006 through 2015, the last decade for which comprehensive data is available. Reported incidents are just the tip of the iceberg, as disasters are chronically underreported. In fact, chemical facilities sometimes wait up to five years to report incidents to the EPA.
“We applaud the EPA’s efforts to save lives, prevent injuries and toxic exposure by providing needed new safeguards,” said Earthjustice lawyer Emma Cheuse. “But to prioritize the safety of workers and gated communities, the EPA must strengthen this rule beyond what it has proposed and issue the strongest protections possible against industrial chemical disasters.”
The EPA should do everything in its power to ensure that no preventable incidents involving highly hazardous chemicals occur, which requires expanding coverage to protect people in more hazardous facilities, not just those who work and live near factories that have had a recent incident. EPA must expand and strengthen proposed rule after hearing public feedback, heeding calls from communities for fence monitoring and strict disaster prevention requirements that workers, communities and first responders can rely on to protect their daily health and safety.
Quotes from Earthjustice clients:
“It is good to see the EPA moving in the right direction, but the EPA must do everything in its power to strengthen this rule to protect vulnerable populations, including communities like Port Arthur, Texas, against explosions and chemical releases We will ask the EPA to ensure that the final rule includes crucial missing safety measures, such as fence monitoring and expanded prevention requirements, and guarantees direct and reinforced public access to the information before an incident occurs,” said Hilton Kelley, Executive Director, Community In-Power & Development Association.
“With the cumulative impacts of dozens of chemical plants along the Houston Ship Channel alone, access to RMP chemical facility information is necessary and essential for the protection and survival of gated communities – so the EPA must finalize strong community information provisions,” said Juan Parras, Executive Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.
“It is positive that the EPA requires an assessment of natural hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes and flood zones in industrial facilities to prevent chemical disasters. However, if we are to prevent chemical accidents, it will be necessary to do We need the EPA to require the implementation of many of these new requirements they have proposed, including safer technologies, back-up power, improved coverage of more chemicals, and more facilities, and better direct public access to information. The public will need to engage loudly and often as this rule progresses, and the EPA will need to heed calls for stricter implementation requirements in this rule-making process, to ensure that the final settlement will truly provide the necessary safeguards in our most affected communities,” said Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics.
“Home to more than 600 chemical manufacturing plants, many of which are near residences, Houston is ground zero for the next chemical disaster. Houstonians will never forget the ITC chemical fire that burned for 5 days in 2019 or the flooded chemical reservoirs from Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall 5 years ago next week. Houstonians deserve a truly protective risk management rule that will hold these facilities accountable for the health and safety of their workers and the community. We commend the EPA for taking this important step forward with today’s announcement, and we look forward to working with them to make it even stronger,” said Jennifer Hadayia, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston.
“Chlorine gas transfer stations embedded in environmental justice communities need to be mitigated. We are only one chemical disaster away from certain death,” said Cynthia Babich, Director of the Del Amo Action Committee.
“Louisiana is home to hundreds of industrial facilities subject to the chemical disaster rule. Our communities regularly face explosions, chemical accidents and the release of dangerous chemicals during hurricanes. Earlier this month, a major chlorine release forced residents of the town of Plaquemine to take shelter when they should have been evacuated. These chemical releases often go unreported, and in many cases residents do not receive evacuation orders when they should. We hope that the Biden-Harris administration can strengthen the requirements so that these chemical accidents are avoided. They have taken a good first step by proposing that facilities assess the dangers of hurricanes and plan to prevent chemical disasters during these frequent events in Louisiana,” said Darryl Malek-Wiley, senior representative of the Sierra Club organization.