EPA Proposes Chemical Safety Rule Changes
The EPA is proposing changes to its chemical safety rules that will require companies in three industries — paper manufacturing, petroleum and coal products, and chemical manufacturing — to assess whether safer technologies and chemicals are feasible.
The proposed changes to the Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations would require some facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals to:
- Consider safer technologies and alternatives by including the assessment of Inherently Safer Technologies and Designs in the Process Hazard Assessment;
- Conduct third-party audits and root cause analysis to identify process safety improvements for accident prevention;
- Enhance emergency planning and preparedness requirements to help ensure coordination between facilities and local communities;
- Strength emergency response planning to help ensure emergency response capabilities are available to mitigate the effect of a chemical accident;
- Improve the ability of LEPCs (Local Emergency Planning Committees) and local emergency response officials to better prepare for emergencies both individually and with one another; and
- Improve access to information to help the public understand the risks at RMP facilities.
In the last 10 years more than 1,500 accidents were reported by RMP facilities, according to the EPA. These accidents caused nearly 60 deaths, some 17,000 people being injured or seeking medical treatment, almost 500,000 people being evacuated or sheltered-in-place, and cost more than $2 billion in property damages.
While the EPA says the proposed revisions will improve chemical process safety and help local authorities respond to and plan for emergencies, some watchdog groups say the rules don’t go far enough.
“The long overdue Risk Management Plan takes an important step forward, but still lacks the teeth needed to protect communities from catastrophic disaster such as the West, Texas explosion that killed 15 people in 2013,” says Lois Gibbs, founder and training director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice Science.
The RMP doesn’t change how the EPA evaluates chemicals, which means ammonium nitrate, the source of the 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company, is still not considered hazardous, the Houston Chronicle reports. The rule also doesn’t expand the types of facilities covered by the RMP and it doesn’t force industries that are covered to change the chemicals they use.
“In fact, 87 percent of over 12,000 chemical facilities would be exempt from the requirements in this proposed rule,” Gibbs says. “The proposed rule fails to adopt preventive strategies such as requiring the use of inherently safer technologies and substituting less toxic or non-toxic chemicals when feasible. This is a substantial failure of the proposed rule.”
Keith Matthews, an attorney at Sidley Austin LLP and a former director in the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, notes that the prevention steps are divided into three program levels: Program 1, Program 2 and Program 3.
“All facilities with Program 2 or 3 processes would be required to conduct a root cause analysis as part of an incident investigation of a catastrophic release or an incident that could reasonably be deemed to have possibly resulted in a catastrophic release (i.e., a near-miss),” he tells Environmental Leader.
“All regulated facilities with Program 2 or 3 processes would be required to contract with an independent third-party to perform a compliance audit after the facility has a reportable release — unlike under the current rules, if the proposed rule is finalized, a facility could not meet this requirement with a self-audit.
“And owners or operators of facilities with Program 3 regulated processes that are paper manufacturers, petroleum and coal products manufacturers, or chemical manufacturers would be required to conduct additional analyses as part of what is called a process hazard analysis and would be required to evaluate the feasibility of safer technology identified as a result of the process hazard analysis,” Matthews says. “These requirements have the potential to significantly add to the burden on these facilities to comply with the RMP requirements.”
Matthews says the first thing companies should to is to assess the proposal and participate in the rulemaking. After the rule is published in the Federal Register, the public has 60 days to submit written comments online at www.regulations.gov or by mail. The agency will also hold a hearing on the proposal on March 29 in Washington, DC.
“That said, owners and operators that want to be proactive and anticipate aspects of the proposed rule that very well may be included in the final rule may want to begin to assess how they might address new requirements regarding root cause analyses, independent audits, and, for those facilities for which these requirements will apply, the more stringent process hazard analysis requirements,” Matthews says.
Photo Credit: chemical warning sign
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