By Carli Jensen, Toxics Program Coordinator, U.S. PIRG
Yesterday, I attended a public meeting of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, or “CSB,” and this meeting couldn’t have come at a better time.
The EPA has announced that they will begin working on a rule to make dangerous chemical facilities safer this September, but they will face considerable opposition from the chemical industry. Our campaign to Prevent Chemical Disasters is gathering steam now to make sure there is strong and growing support from the public, elected officials, parents, teachers, and schools to help blunt the force of the chemical lobby.
The CSB can help, because part of its mission as an agency is to communicate with the EPA on how to make chemical facilities safer. The meeting today gave me a chance to make public comments urging the CSB to speak out asking the EPA to work quickly to create a strong rule to protect our communities from dangerous chemical facilities.
You can read my public comments below:
Hello, my name is Carli Jensen, and I am an attorney and I work for U.S. Public Interest Research Group as the Toxics Program Coordinator. I’d like to thank the Board for having this meeting, and taking public comments.
As you know, thousands of chemical facilities across the country use and store chemicals that pose grave health and safety risks to the people who live, work, study, and play in the surrounding communities, as well as to the workers in those facilities. Nationwide, there are over 100 million people who live in the danger zones around chemical facilities.
The CSB’s mission is to investigate the root cause of chemical accidents at these facilities, and make recommendations to regulatory agencies, including the EPA. The CSB website states that, “Congress designed the CSB to be non-regulatory and independent of other agencies so that its investigations might, where appropriate, review the effectiveness of regulations and regulatory enforcement.”
The frequency and severity of chemical incidents across the U.S. show, without a doubt, that it is appropriate at this time for the CSB to review the current EPA regulations and other voluntary standards intended to prevent chemical incidents at chemical facilities.
The current regulations are not keeping us safe. There have been over 350 chemical accidents in the past two years alone, killing at least 79 people and hospitalizing 1,500 more. These numbers are a stark indication that the current regulations and regulatory enforcement are not protecting the people whose lives and health are put at risk every day by these dangerous chemical facilities.
To prevent more dangerous chemical incidents and make these facilities less attractive terrorist targets, the CSB should recommend that the EPA work quickly to make strong rule requiring chemical plants to switch to the safest cost-effective chemicals and technology available.
Many dangerous chemicals and technologies used in chemical facilities have safer alternatives that would reduce or eliminate risks. The EPA calls these alternatives Inherently Safer Technology, or “IST.” If a facility is implementing IST, that means it is switching to different, safer methods of processing chemicals—for example, reducing temperatures or pressures to minimize the risk of explosion, changing the flow of chemical processes to avoid dangerous byproducts, storing smaller amounts of dangerous chemicals, or replacing dangerous chemicals with benign ones. All these changes reduce the danger of a chemical accident and make these facilities less attractive targets for terrorists.
The greatest opportunity presented by IST is that it is relatively easily accomplished. IST alternatives are available, affordable, and effective by definition, and hundreds of plants have already transitioned from dangerous chemicals to their IST alternatives. For example, Clorox switched its U.S. plants from chlorine gas to high-strength bleach in 2012, completely eliminating the risk of a deadly chlorine gas release.
Further, “[i]mplementing inherently safer technologies potentially could lessen the consequences of a terrorist attack by reducing the chemical risks present at facilities, thereby making facilities less attractive terrorist targets.”
Despite the opportunity to dramatically reduce the threat posed by chemical plants, the federal government has failed to remedy these deadly security gaps. In 2006, Congress failed to pass comprehensive chemical security legislation that would have required plants to switch to safer chemical alternatives when feasible, opting instead for weak regulations that still leave our communities at risk.
We need a strong national rule requiring chemical facilities to switch to the safest cost-effective chemicals and processes available, and the CSB should recommend that EPA take swift action to propose and finalize this rule.
I’ll continue working to protect our communties from toxic chemical accidents, but I can’t do it alone. By adding your voice to this petition to the EPA, calling for stronger chemical safety rules, you can help make sure this call for change is heard loud and clear.
 There were 12,544 facilities covered by EPA’s Risk Management Program as of 2014. CRS Memo to Senator Ed Markey, December 3, 2014, http://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/RMP%20Facilities%20in%20the%20United%20States%20as%20of%20December%202014.pdf, viewed 3/13/15
 GAO Report, Homeland Security: Voluntary Initiatives are Underway at Chemical Facilities, but the Extent of Security Preparedness is Unknown, p. 4, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03439.pdf, downloaded March 10, 2015
 Who’s in Danger, Chapter 3: Removing Chemical Hazards: Solutions for Companies and Communities, May 2014; Coming Clean; http://comingcleaninc.org/assets/media/images/Reports/Who’s%20in%20Danger%20Report%20FINAL.pdf, viewed 3/16/15
 Press release, The Clorox Company, http://investors.thecloroxcompany.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=420583, viewed 3/10/13
 S. 2486 (109th), sponsor Sen. Frank Lautenburg, 2006; H.R. 2237 (109th), sponsor Rep. Frank Pallone, 2005.