Four Alarming Facts About Chemical Safety And What The Government Can Do About Them

Chemical safety is no joking matter. Chemical incidents like explosions, fires, and releases can be fatal and occur more often that you’d guess. Millions of people living in communities across the nation are in danger of being impacted by such an incident, but chances are, they don’t even know it. The idea of an unknown, looming threat is scary enough, but what’s even more alarming is that the government isn’t doing all it could to protect Americans from potential chemical accidents.

Here are a few facts to put the issue into context:

1. About 177 million Americans live in the worst-case scenario zones for chemical disasters. That’s more than half of all Americans, though the problem disproportionately impacts certain segments of the population. The percentage of African Americans living in fenceline zones around 3,433 of the most dangerous facilities is 75 percent greater than for the United States as a whole, and the percentage of Latinos in these zones is 60 percent greater.

2. One in three schoolchildren attends school in the vulnerability zone of an industrial chemical release. Several chemical accidents in the last few years have put children at risk. Three schools were destroyed or damaged in 2013 when the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, exploded, killing 15 people, including 12 first responders, and injuring 260 more. If the explosion had occurred during the school day countless young lives could have been lost. The West, Texas, incident was exceptional, but not unique.

3. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows that serious industrial chemical accidents occur every two-and-a-half days in communities across the nation. Between explosions, fires, and releases, those millions of Americans living in the worst-case scenario zones of chemical facilities are in danger of being impacted by a chemical disaster far more frequently than they may realize.

4. The EPA is currently trying to weaken the federal Chemical Disaster Rule. The Chemical Disaster Rule makes improvements to the EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) to help prevent future chemical accidents while strengthening emergency preparedness and response in the event that a disaster does occur. The rule was finalized in January 2017 but, in an act of astonishing disregard for community and worker safety, the Trump administration barred the strengthened rule from implementation, and just last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt released a new plan, which removes all ten prevention requirements from the RMP rule as well as all but a handful of the community preparedness and emergency response improvements.

So what should the government do about all of this? Well, first, EPA should not weaken or delay the Chemical Disaster Rule; it should be retained in its original form. Congress should reject the continuing proposals from the administration to eliminate the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which investigates chemical accidents to determine their underlying cause and makes recommendations so industry doesn’t repeat the same mistakes. The CSB helps them learn from their mistakes.

By weakening important rules and trying to defund or eliminate important programs, the administration has turned its back on the most basic responsibility of government: to keep its citizens out of harms way. Luckily, there is something you can do right now. The EPA is currently taking comments on its proposal to weaken the Chemical Disaster Rule. You can submit comments online here until July 30.

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