The EPA’s update to the Risk Management Program focuses on preventing catastrophes at chemical facilities and ensuring that first responders and the public are informed and protected.
On April 17, 2013, a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas destroyed homes and a school, killing 15 people and injuring more than 200, including first responders. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed modest but important updates to the chemical facility safety rule for facilities that use or store large amounts of dangerous chemicals that will help protect first responders and communities, and help prevent chemical disasters.
The rule covers 12,500 facilities that use or store highly toxic of highly flammable chemicals. From 2004-2013, there were more than 1,500 reported accidents at these facilities that caused more than $2 billion in property damage, evacuation or “shelter in place” of over 500,00 people, 17,099 injuries and 58 deaths.
This rule would improve coordination between facilities, first responders, and Local Emergency Planning Committees. It would ensure that lessons are learned from serious accidents. And it would require a small subset of facilities to identify safer practices.
In August 2012, more than 15,000 people had to seek medical treatment as a result of an explosion and fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. In April 2013, more than 15 people were killed a result of an explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas. There are serious chemical release incidents every week in the United States, and the EPA’s risk management plan (RMP) rule would increase protections for communities that are in danger.
In the United States, more than 134 million Americans live in the disaster zones around facilities that store or use hazardous chemicals. You may live near a chemical disaster zone and not even know it. And people who live near these facilities face serious risks.
More often than not, the people facing the greatest risks are people of color and/or living in poverty. In Houston, for example, a significant population of the communities of Harrisburg/Manchester and Galena Park live within one mile of an RMP facility. Ninety percent of the population in Harrisburg/Manchester and nearly 40 percent of the population in Galena Park lives near an RMP facility. These communities are predominantly made up of people of color and have higher poverty rates than the rest of the city.
Learn more about the impacts on people who live in the shadow of dangerous chemical plants from the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance.
This rule is opposed by a number of industries, with the American Chemistry Council leading the charge. Other trade associations that are also on record as opposing this rule include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Forest & Paper Association and the American Petroleum Institute.
The modest requirements of this rule are not impossible to meet. In fact, Clorox converted all of its factories that use chlorine gas to a safer chemical process, reducing the risks to 13.6 million Americans in 2009. This rule does not even require industry to go that far, merely analyze whether or not it would be feasible for a facility to convert to a safer alternative.
U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), who introduced the CRA resolution in the House, received more than $189,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry last cycle.
Yogin Kothari, Union of Concerned Scientists, YKothari@ucsusa.org, (202) 331-5665
66 Groups Defend the Chemical Facility Safeguards
BlueGreen Alliance: February 2017
Urge Your Member of Congress: Stand Up for First Responders and Public Safety
New Jersey Work Environment Council: February 2017
Double Jeopardy in Houston: Acute and Chronic Chemical Exposures Pose Disproportionate Risks for Marginalized Communities
Union of Concerned Scientists: October 2016
A Free Ride: How Special Interests Are Undermining Chemical Facility Safety
Union of Concerned Scientists: August 2016
Coalition Comments on the EPA’s Proposed Rule
Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters: May 2016
EPA Must Do More to Secure Chemical Facility Safety for Fenceline Communities
Union of Concerned Scientists: May 2016
Avoiding Chemical Disasters, Managing Risks: EPA Addresses Chemical Safety
Union of Concerned Scientists: March 2016
National Poll shows bipartisan support for this rule
Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters: October 2015
Who’s in Danger?
Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform: May 2014
Learn more from the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters.