By Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Special for USDR
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued updated rules for the 12,500+ chemical facilities across America which threaten 134 million people with potential catastrophic explosions or poisonous gas releases. This update results from an executive order issued by President Obama over three years ago in the wake of the West, TX fertilizer explosion—which killed 15 and had potential to kill hundreds more.
Responding to EPA’s updated RMP rules, Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) said; “We applaud EPA for taking these long overdue steps to give communities living in immediate danger of chemical disasters the information they need to better protect themselves. While these updates leave much to be desired and largely place the interests of industry ahead of worker and community safety, EPA’s action can still improve the safety of first-responders, chemical facility workers, and the millions of Americans living in the impact-zone of chemical facility disasters—but only if these new provisions are aggressively utilized and enforced by the agency, local governments, and the public.”
Michele Roberts continued; “These improvements to EPA’s RMP rules couldn’t have come soon enough; in the time since President Obama directed EPA to make these changes, there have been more than 82 deaths and 1,600 injuries from accidental chemical releases or explosions at facilities across the nation. While EPA’s update to the RMP rules largely focuses on post-disaster measures, these updates have the potential to save lives and allow millions of Americans to live with a little less fear.”
According to the EPA, in the past 10 years nearly 60 people died, some 17,000 people were injured or sought medical treatment, and almost 500,000 people were evacuated or sheltered-in-place as a result of accidental releases at chemical plants. During that time, more than 1,500 incidents were reported causing over $2 billion in property damages.
It’s important to note that some communities bear disproportionate risk associated with chemical disasters. A demographic analysis found that people of color and low-income communities are more often located near hazardous chemical facilities. The analysis found that the percentage of Blacks and Latinos living near hazardous chemical facilities is 75% and 60% greater (respectively) than for the background average of the U.S. as a whole. The poverty rate near hazardous chemical facilities is 50% higher than the rest of the nation.
Improving our nation’s chemical safety rules is widely popular across political leanings, and over 40,000 people have urged EPA to strengthen its RMP program even beyond these current steps. Despite this, industry has been calling on the incoming Trump administration and Congress to block or repeal these safety improvements.
In response, Michele Roberts said; “Now that EPA has acted to increase protections for our nation’s communities most vulnerable to chemical disasters, we expect the Trump Administration and Congress to work on behalf of all Americans by improving on this progress and ensuring that none live in constant threat of catastrophic explosions or toxic gas releases. Any action to block or repeal these improved safety rules will put Americans in more danger, and undoubtedly at some point cost innocent people their lives.”
The Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) organizes industry reform strategies for safer chemicals and clean energy that leave no community or worker behind. Find more about EJHA here: http://ej4all.org/
SOURCE Environmental Justice Health Alliance