By Kara Cook-Schultz, U.S. PIRG
More than 40 percent of Americans live in the danger zone of a facility that stores or uses hazardous chemicals—facilities we assume have comprehensive safety rules in place in case of emergency.
But industrial disasters throughout U.S. history, including several dangerous chemical explosions in recent months, showcase the urgent need for stronger enforcement of chemical plant safety regulations in our country.
In Crosby, Texas, last September, first responders reacting to a chemical explosion described the situation as “nothing less than chaos … police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.”
While toxic fumes surrounded the site, emergency responders were unsure how to respond because the company responsible for the facility didn’t have an updated emergency plan in place. They weren’t required to have one.
Even so, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently moving to scrap improvements to its Risk Management Program that would help save the lives of nearby residents and first responders in the event of a chemical plant disaster.
As the 2018 hurricane season ramps up, U.S. PIRG is urging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to consider the millions of Americans living in the shadow of chemical plants in communities across the country.
The EPA will be holding a hearing on the rules on June 14, and our national advocates are planning to deliver thousands of petitions from our members and supporters calling on Administrator Pruitt to move forward with strengthening chemical plant safety rules.
Photo: LadyDragonflyCC – >;< via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Chemical plant explosions are not isolated incidents: According to the EPA, roughly 150 chemical disasters occur each year. In the worst cases, these disasters result in fatalities and serious injuries, with many others causing evacuations. The Risk Management Program itself was developed after 15 Americans died in a 2013 chemical plant explosion in West, Texas.
Under the delayed rules, chemical facilities would have to engage in more coordination with local communities to plan for emergencies, ensuring that first responders and the public are informed and protected.
Additionally, as the hurricanes that devastated our coasts last year showed, natural disasters can increase the likelihood of explosions or other incidents at chemical plants. Now that the 2018 hurricane season is here, we should act quickly.
P.S. We’re also trying to connect with victims of chemical disasters to better tell the stories of affected local communities. Even on national issues like this one, raising the voices of people who have been directly impacted by chemical threats is a powerful way to make change. Have you been affected by a chemical plant disaster? Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story with us.