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EPA Strengthens Chemical Accident Risk Management Program

New safety standards are strongest in history, will further protect at-risk communities from chemical accidents.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized amendments to its Risk Management Program (RMP) to further protect at-risk communities from chemical accidents. In particular, the rules will increase protections for communities located near facilities in industry sectors with high accident rates.

The “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule” includes EPA’s most protective safety provisions for chemical facilities in history, and requires stronger measures for prevention, preparedness, and public transparency. The rule requires industry to prevent accidental releases of dangerous chemicals that could cause deaths and injuries, damage property and the environment, or require surrounding communities to evacuate or shelter-in-place.

Chemical Accidents
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Ludmila)

“Many communities that are vulnerable to chemical accidents are in overburdened and underserved areas of the country,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This final rule is a critical piece of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing environmental justice by putting in place stronger safety requirements for industrial facilities and new measures to protect communities from harm.”

Preventing, Responding To Chemical Accidents

The final EPA rule includes revisions to improve chemical process safety; assist in planning, preparing for, and responding to accidents; and increase public awareness of chemical hazards at regulated sources. It requires regulated facilities to perform a safer technologies and alternatives analysis, and in some cases, requires facilities to implement reliable safeguard measures to reduce the frequency and severity of accidents.

For example, in 2019, an explosion and fire at the TPC Group in Port Neches, Texas resulted in the largest number of evacuees in history (50,000 people), as well as $153 million in offsite property damage. Had the new provisions been in effect prior to the TPC Group accident, the facility would have been required to perform a safer technologies and alternatives analysis and implement at least one safeguard measure, which may have mitigated or prevented the accident from occurring.

The final rule covers all 11,740 regulated RMP facilities across the country. It contains more rigorous requirements for facilities that are more accident-prone and pose the greatest risk to communities. EPA estimates that accidental releases from RMP facilities cost society more than $540 million each year. There are approximately 131 million people living within three miles of RMP facilities, of which approximately 20 million identify as Black or African American, 32 million identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 44 million earn less than or equal to twice the poverty level.

The rule also includes provisions such as empowering workers in safety decisions and increasing access to RMP facility information for communities living and working in the surrounding areas. To further enhance public transparency, EPA is working toward making RMP information available on the agency’s website.

Chemical Safety Experts Weigh In

EPA incorporated stakeholder input and coordinated with other federal chemical safety and security agencies during the rulemaking process. This input was vital in developing a comprehensive proposal and effective final rule to further protect at-risk communities from chemical accidents.

Final amendments to the rule include:

  • Requiring a safer technologies and alternatives analysis, and in some cases, implementation of reliable safeguard measures for certain facilities in industry sectors with high accident rates.
  • Advancing employee participation, training, and opportunities for employee decision-making in facility accident prevention, for example:
    • Reiterating the allowance of a partial or complete process shutdown in the event of a potential catastrophic release.
    • Implementing a process to allow employees and their representatives to anonymously report specific unaddressed hazards.
  • Requiring third-party compliance audits and root cause analysis incident investigation for facilities that have had a prior accident.
  • Enhancing facility planning and preparedness efforts to strengthen emergency response by ensuring chemical release information is timely shared with local responders and a community notification system is in place to warn the community of any impending release.
  • Emphasizing the requirement for regulated facilities to evaluate risks of natural hazards and climate change, including any associated loss of power.
  • Increasing transparency by providing access to RMP facility information for communities nearby.

The rule will be published alongside a query tool which will allow people to access information for RMPs in nearby communities. The agency plans to update the tool to allow visualization of climate change hazards, a request of several stakeholders. This commitment aligns with a key goal of the National Climate Resilience Framework: to equip communities with the information and resources needed to assess their climate risks and develop the climate resilience solutions most appropriate for them.

Visit EPA’s Risk Management Program rule website to learn more about the rule.

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