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Yesterday, President Obama issued an Executive Order mandating that the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Labor and Homeland Security to develop plans for new safety measure at chemical plants like the one in West, Texas that exploded in April, killing 17 people and injuring hundreds.

That West, Texas tragedy was one of many preventable disasters that have happened in the decade since the EPA first proposed using the Clean Air Act to enforce common sense rules for chemical plants. It's been over 10 years, and we're still waiting. Even in the time since the West, Texas disaster, there have been at least six other serious, preventable chemical accidents around the country. This is a problem we not only should have, but could have, solved years ago, and now, with President Obama's order, the EPA has a clear mandate to do what a wide coalition of organizations have been urging it to do for years: use its existing authority under the law to require chemical plants to use safer processes and chemicals at thousands of facilities across the country. The safety of millions of people depends on it.

At the same time that the president issued his Executive Order, Greenpeace and over 100 groups such as United Auto Workers, the Sierra Club, UPROSE, Rebuild the Dream, Environmental Defense Fund, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Peoples' Action, MoveOn, Los Jardines Institute, and Community In-Power and Development Association sent a jointly signed letter to the new EPA chief Gina McCarthy urging her to make chemical disaster prevention a priority in her first 100 days in office. The path forward couldn't be clearer, and the risks of continued inaction couldn't be higher.

Unsecured toxic chemicals needlessly threaten our communities every day. According to the EPA's own data, there are more than 470 chemical facilities that each put 100,000 or more people at risk of injury or death from a sudden poison gas release. In 2004, the Homeland Security Council estimated that an attack on a poison gas facility would result in 17,500 immediate deaths, 10,000 seriously injuries and send an additional 100,000 people to the hospital.

These are astonishing numbers, so much so that it can be hard to understand just how close this problem is to most of us. Greenpeace has set up a quick way for you to find out how near you are to one of these facilities, and by simply entering your zip code here you can find out exactly how this issue affects you. The results might shock you. They certainly shocked me. But luckily, this is a problem with a solution.

Hundreds of chemical facilities, including all Clorox facilities in the U.S., have already taken it upon themselves to adopt safer procedures for their workers and the communities around their plants. As Greenpeace knows well, we can't simply rely on corporations to police themselves. There are still more than one-hundred million people at risk because they live and work inside "vulnerability zones" near the highest risk chemical facilities in major cities across the country.

The EPA needs to act now to ensure the safety of millions of people who who are needlessly endangered by un-secure toxic chemicals. The President has now made clear he is joining our call for action, but it's ultimately up to the EPA to use its existing authority to make our communities safe from toxic chemicals starting today. Safer alternatives and better regulations are the only fool-proof ways we can keep keep tragedies like West, Texas from happening again.

Follow Philip Radford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Phil_Radford

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Comment Preferences

  •  Send a Letter to OSHA as Well (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093

    As you address, the EPA has a key role in ensuring chemical plant safety.  Another key issue in this arena is chronic understaffing and underresourcing of OSHA.  Let me provide an example.

    In 1992, OSHA passed a new regulation on handling of flammable liquids, which constitute the majority of the liquids handled in chemical plants.  The essence of the regulation is that any vessel (chemical reactor, storage tank, distillation tower, etc.) which contains flammable materials must have a relief system installed which can meet the following criteria.  In the event that uncontrolled heat is supplied to the vessel, be it from a run away exothermic reactor or a fire outside of the vessel, that the relieve system will transport the flammable materials away from the heat source before they do not themselves catch on fire and/or explode.

    Designing appropriate relief systems is not techically difficult by they are expense to install.  As a result, only very large chemical companies with names you are likle to recognize have installed them.  The remainder of the companies, comprising the vast majority of vessels containing flammable materials, have not.

    Typically what happens is that a study is commissioned to do the work.  Then the cost of the project is submitted to company management who, balking at the price tag, never cancel the project but also never fund it, so it never gets done.

    This situation can effectively persist forever since OSHA only has enough inspectors to visit the very large companies.  You'll note that nearly every time there is deadly explosion it's from a chemical company you have never heard of and the news report inevitably reporst that the facility had not been inspected in a very long time.

    This situation is getting worse with time as OSHA's budget continues be squeezed, the economic climate is not favorable or investment in safety systems, and the fleet of chemical facilities in the U.S. continues to age.

  •  Well, let's see... (0+ / 0-)

    I guess I am not in danger from a chemical explosion, but I do live less than two miles from a nuclear power plant. When I go to bed at night I see the flashing light from atop one of the cooling towers. And there is a 2,000 lbs/sq in gas line running about twenty yards from my house. It supplies large quantities of gas to the nuclear power plant. But, apart from these two things I guess I am safe. Of course, I am losing weight and no one can explain it. But, no worries. I am an old man so my weight loss is probably due to that condition. It is pretty here. I have neighbors and the county water supply reservoir is just about half a mile from my house with a creek that runs by the power plant and feeds into it. But, no worries.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 08:55:38 AM PDT

  •  Good diary! (0+ / 0-)

    Portland Oregon has a couple of chemical plants as does Vancouver, Wa.  My main worry is Nestle's trying to fkcu up the water supply as they do everywhere.

    But this government seems more concerned about regulation and inspecting my vagina far more than they care about chemical plants.  Go figure.

    Then there's the coal trains.  The nuclear waste "clean up" and "non-clean up" around Hanford.  

    Volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Oh my.

    Thank you.

    "Love One Another" ~ George Harrison

    by Damnit Janet on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:07:29 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for writing about this (0+ / 0-)

    Many refineries and chemical plants and even large community swimming pools store significant amounts of virulently and needlessly toxic chemicals, such as anhydrous (gaseous) ammonia, hydrofloric acid, and chlorine.

    Efforts to compel substitution of lass toxic chemicals have dead-ended for decades.

    The Texas plant explosion would be dwarfed by the magnitude of a process failure, or sabotage,  at any of a number of chemical plants near large cities.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:13:01 AM PDT

  •  You said: (0+ / 0-)
    That West, Texas tragedy was one of many preventable disasters that have happened in the decade since the EPA first proposed using the Clean Air Act to enforce common sense rules for chemical plants. It's been over 10 years, and we're still waiting.
    Both your historical rendition and your mathematics here are off.

    42 U.S.C. Sec. 7412(r) was first enacted in 1990 by Congress....not U.S. EPA.   It was Congress that acted in a bill signed into law by Bush I.    Section 112(r) has been in effect since enactment and Title V sources had to address 112(r) since the Title V requirement went into effect.

    All of this has been going on a lot longer than 10 years.

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