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.”