Preventing Chemical Disasters with Federal Regulation

The Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform and Coming Clean have released Preventing Disaster: Three Chemical Incidents Within Two Weeks Show Urgent Need for Stronger Federal Safety Requirements, a report detailing three different case studies involving chemical facility disasters all occurring in January 2022. These incidents led to either evacuations or shelter in place orders among the nearby communities. While all three hazardous situations led to air pollution, they had the potential to be far more catastrophic. Some of the narrowly avoided dangers included an “ammonium nitrate explosion,” the release of “660,000 pounds of highly toxic gas across a 25 miles radius,” and the ignition of “a warehouse where 3 million lbs of chemicals were stored, including chlorine pellets[.]”

According to the report, major improvements to the EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule could help mitigate these potential dangers in the future. Currently, the purposed rule relies “on voluntary actions by high-risk facilities” and ignores obvious disaster prevention methods such as requiring facilities to maintain emergency power sources for chemical storage safety. There are also updates that can be made in terms of what chemicals and chemical thresholds are covered under the rule. Expanding the substances that are covered under the RMP rule would increase the number of facilities that are required to develop a risk management plan and encourage safer chemical production and storage practices.

For more resources related to this piece, check out HSDL’s In Focus on Mass Evacuations or other resources related to chemical facilities, chemical regulations, and environmental risk management.

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