chemical disaster prevention

Lawmakers Call for Chemical Disaster Prevention

Lawmakers have released a letter urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement stronger chemical disaster prevention measures to protect the American people.

EPA Updating RMP Rule

The letter was sent to EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan on April 14, 2022. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán drafted the letter, which was co-signed by 29 of their Senate and House colleagues, including three Illinois lawmakers: Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Rep. Bobby Rush.

Multiple labor and environmental advocacy groups have also voiced their support, including the United Steelworkers, the BlueGreen Alliance, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Coming Clean, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy.

The call for more robust chemical disaster prevention efforts arrives at a time when the EPA is working to finalize “long overdue updates” to its Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule. This directive requires establishments that use extremely hazardous substances to develop a plan to:

  • Identify the potential effects of a chemical accident;
  • Detail steps the facility is taking to prevent an accident; and
  • Spell out emergency response procedures should an accident occur.

Facilities covered under the RMP Rule include chemical manufacturers and distributors, oil refineries, fertilizer plants, water treatment stations, and liquefied petroleum gas storage centers.

“Strongest Possible Protections”

The signatories to the chemical disaster prevention letter urged the EPA to “deliver the strongest possible protections for those who work in RMP chemical facilities, environmental justice communities, first responders, and our most socially vulnerable constituents.”

The lawmakers claimed that existing federal mandates have failed to adequately safeguard chemical facility workers, emergency personnel, and communities that live near dangerous chemical facilities.

“Over 175 million people in the United States live near the roughly 12,000 high-risk chemical facilities are regulated under EPA’s RMP rule,” they wrote, adding that the “fenceline communities located closest to these facilities and facing tremendous threat are disproportionately communities of color and low-income communities.”

“Double Disasters” Compound Grave Threat

Furthermore, the legislators demanded that the “upcoming revisions to the RMP rule also provide a critical opportunity to protect vulnerable communities from the ‘double disasters’ that result when chemical disasters coincide with climate-related disasters like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.”

These so-called “double disasters” are compounding an already grave threat to the American workforce at poorly maintained chemical facilities. In light of the increased frequency of severe weather events, the lawmakers argued that the RMP Rule “should also recognize climate change as a threat multiplier.”

Chemical Disaster Prevention Should Be Prioritized

The letter also highlighted the persistence of the threat posed by chemical disasters, which hurt workers and the general public so regularly that victims often retain personal injury attorneys to represent them in litigation.

“In the last ten years for which data is available,” the letter stated, “there have been 149 harmful chemical disasters per year, on average, including large-scale chemical releases, fires, and explosions. … Of all reported chemical incidents from 1999-2008, injuries were highest among workers – and the economic consequences for a workforce can be devastating in the aftermath of catastrophic incidents.”

The signatories wrote that the EPA needed to prioritize chemical disaster prevention in its updates to the RMP Rule to avert future catastrophes. Specifically, the letter recommended requiring “hazard reduction and best practice prevention measures, such as transitioning to inherently safer chemicals and processes, implementing root cause analyses following incidents, and requiring third-party audits to verify facility compliance.”

Finally, the lawmakers called upon the EPA “to account for, and protect communities from, the cumulative health impacts of multiple polluting facilities.” Efforts to do so must include “common sense emergency response measures, such as back-up power, leak detection, and real-time air monitoring, along with broad and accessible information access, such as multilingual outreach before an incident occurs.”

According to the letter, “These critical updates to the RMP rule to prevent future chemical disasters will mitigate hazards to vulnerable populations and environmental justice communities, enable workers to perform their jobs safely, allow first responders to respond safely and more effectively to incidents, and empower communities to focus on protecting themselves during extreme weather events without the additional burden of toxic exposure.”

Toxic Chemicals Harm Thousands Each Year

Whether inhaled, ingested, or even simply touched, toxic chemicals can inflict serious bodily harm on anyone who inhales, ingests, or simply comes into physical contact with them. Exposure to chemicals can cause burns, heart disease, cancer, and damage to the brain, nervous system, lungs, and kidneys.

As the letter to the EPA makes clear, current regulations fail to prevent thousands of Americans from suffering the effects of chemical exposure annually, both on and off the job. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics found that approximately 10 percent of all workers who die of occupational injuries or illnesses do so because of chemical exposure – an average of 60,000 fatalities each year – while another 860,000 non-fatal illnesses are linked to chemicals in the workplace.

Are You the Victim of a Chemical Disaster?

If you are the victim of a chemical disaster, you may be eligible to seek financial compensation. Nevertheless, you may encounter many obstacles when you attempt to pursue the at-fault parties. It can require extensive scientific knowledge to properly determine the source of an illness or injury and identify those who are responsible. In the face of these challenges, injured people often find that they could benefit from the assistance of the personal injury attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.

With more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the leading Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. We have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation necessary to help get you and your loved ones the justice you deserve.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of GWC’s dedicated personal injury attorneys, you may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative.