Another Year of Preventable Chemical Disasters for America

Delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule Places Millions of American Families and Workers at Risk.

April 5, 2018

A coalition of community, environmental health, worker safety, and public health organizations released a report highlighting how Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule continues to place American families and workers in harm’s way. The report spotlights some of the serious industrial chemical releases, fires, and explosions that have occurred in the year since the rule was placed on hold by the Trump administration. The rule would have required more than 12,500 industrial facilities to take concrete steps to prevent chemical disasters that place millions of Americans at risk each year.

“Delaying this rule unnecessarily endangers workers and the communities around facilities that use and store dangerous chemicals,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Kim Glas. “We know that changes to the processes companies use can result in safer, healthier workplaces, and communities. Now it is time for the EPA to stop stalling and start protecting us all.”

The report outlines dozens of examples of chemical disasters that have occurred since the rule was first delayed, including the Arkema explosion that took place in Texas in August 2017 and the ExxonMobil Refinery fire in Louisiana in November 2017. The report details the personal accounts of those who found themselves in harm’s way. Because residents often do not receive complete or timely information about the flames they see or odors they smell coming from oil refineries and other chemical facilities, these incidents provide only part of the picture. EPA has not released a comprehensive list of industrial chemical incidents, nor have they tracked the resulting harm that has occurred to families and workers. The report therefore represents only a snapshot of industrial incidents that have occurred across the nation since March 2017.

The EPA reports that about 177 million Americans live in the worst-case scenario zones for chemical disasters. At least one in three schoolchildren attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous facility. The percentage of Blacks living in fenceline zones around 3,433 of the most dangerous facilities is 75 percent greater than for the United States as a whole, and the percentage of Latinos in these zones is 60 percent greater.

The Chemical Disaster Rule includes much-needed improvements to the EPA’s Clean Air Act Risk Management Program (RMP) that would require companies to take steps to prevent chemical releases, fires, and explosion, while also working with first responders to improve emergency preparedness and coordination. When developing the rule, the EPA determined the existing requirements of the RMP failed to prevent over 2,200 chemical disasters from occurring over a 10-year period, including about 150 incidents each year that caused injuries, fatalities, sheltering-in-place orders, and other harm.

The frequency and magnitude of industrial chemical releases (and the threat of fires and explosions) increase during hurricane season in the Gulf states where many oil refineries and chemical facilities are concentrated. As the report illustrates, many releases occurred during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. The 2018 hurricane season will begin in the Gulf on June 1, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, but the Chemical Disaster Rule remains delayed, idled by the Trump administration.

This report was released in partnership with BlueGreen Alliance, Coalition For A Safe Environment, Community In-Power & Development Association, Coming Clean, Earthjustice, Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Union of Concerned Scientists and California Communities Against Toxics.

To read the full report, please see here.