Preventing and Better Preparing for Emergencies at Chemical Plants is Job One

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By Mathy Stanislaus

The chemical industry provides critical products we use every day, creates jobs, and is a staple of the U.S. economy. While numerous chemical plants operate safely, 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.

To prevent and reduce the number of accidents and protect communities and first responders, we are proposing revisions to the accidental release prevention requirements under the Clean Air Act, also known as our Risk Management Program (RMP). In the Report to the President on implementing Executive Order (EO) 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security (August 2013), we committed to amending the RMP regulations in 2016.

This proposal is based on extensive engagement over two years with community leaders, first responders, local and state governments, industry and many other stakeholders – nearly 1,800 participants across the country in over 25 states. The Executive Order Working group reviewed existing programs, recommendations from the safety and security communities, and feedback from the EO listening session, as well as investigative reports of major incidents. In 2014 the EO Working Group published for stakeholder comment a preliminary list of options for improving chemical facility safety and security. The May 2014 Progress Report to the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, summarized the federal governments’ progress. Modernizing the RMP rule was identified as one of the top priorities to improve chemical facility safety and security. In July, 2014 we sought comment on potential revisions to modernize EPA’s regulations, guidance and policies by issuing a Request for Information. In 2015, prior to convening a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel, we conducted outreach with small entities potentially affected by these regulations. EPA invited the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and 32 potentially affected small entity representatives to a conference call and solicited comments from them on preliminary information. These comments and concerns have been reflected in today’s proposal.

The proposed amendments are intended to improve existing risk management plan requirements to enhance chemical safety at RMP facilities by:

  • •Requiring the consideration of safer technologies and alternatives by including the assessment of Inherently Safer Technologies and Designs in the Process Hazard Assessment
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  • Requiring third party audits and root cause analysis to identify process safety improvements for accident prevention
  • Enhancing emergency planning and preparedness requirements to ensure coordination between facilities and local communities
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  • Ensuring that  emergency response capabilities are available to mitigate the effects of a chemical accident
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  • Improving the ability of local emergency planning committees and local  emergency response officials to better prepare for emergencies
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  • Increasing public access to information to help the public understand the risks at RMP facilities, and increase community involvement in accident planning for when communities need to evacuate or shelter-in-place during an accident

I participated in many of the listening sessions and stakeholder conferences and heard first-hand from local responders and communities about their concerns about accidental chemical releases and their ideas to improve planning and prevent emergencies. Together we can work to strengthen preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities.

This proposal is a step in the right direction.  We want to build on the success of leaders in the chemical industry by enhancing their operations to prevent accidents, and we want to make sure that communities are fully prepared for a chemical plant accident, so that first responders, workers, and neighboring community members are protected.

The proposed rule is just one of the actions the U.S. government has undertaken to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities under EO 13650. In addition to these revisions, we continue our work under EO 13650 by assisting local communities in developing local emergency contingency plans and facilitating a dialog between communities and chemical facilities on chemical accident prevention and preparedness.

Learn more about the proposal here: http://www.epa.gov/rmp/proposed-changes-risk-management-program-rmp-rule

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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EPA Continues Support for Local Preparedness/Prevention Activities

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By Mathy Stanislaus

In 2014, after several catastrophic chemical facility incidents, I represented EPA as a Tri-Chair for the creation of The Report for the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, to recognize the central role of local community preparedness to advance safety of chemical plants. Local communities – working through Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) – are the lynchpin to advancing safety of chemical plants, as well as other hazards such as the transport of chemicals and oil by rail. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), these local and state organizations receive information from more than 400,000 chemical plants about the volumes and hazards of chemicals. (This contrasts with the 12,500 chemical plants that we have direct oversight through the Risk Management Planning Program.) They then have the responsibility to analyze the information and develop plans for the safety of their communities from chemical plant accidents, working with local community members and organizations, as well as representatives from the chemical plants.

Enhancing Local Planning under EPCRA

To strengthen local planning efforts, we released a new guide for LEPCs that encourages collaboration through outreach to facilities, illustrating the importance of public safety and the need to comply with EPCRA, as well as steps that can be taken to prevent chemical accidents. This guide discusses the requirements of the EPCRA, roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved in local preparedness efforts, how to develop an emergency response plan, tools for planning and response, and how to enhance community engagement and public access to information. LEPCs and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) play a key role in meeting the goals of EPCRA.

Public Engagement

We also recognize that members of the public have a role to play in assisting the LEPC or TEPC to understand the unique needs of the community regarding communication about the chemical risks and emergency response procedures. For example, individuals with special medical needs, such as the elderly, disabled/handicapped, children, and those with transportation challenges. Tailoring outreach to meet the specific considerations of the local community enables effective participation in the planning process and an efficient response to ensure safety of the public.

LEPCs and TEPCs notify the public of their activities and hold public meetings to discuss the emergency plan with the community, educate the public about chemical risks, and share information on what is to be done during an emergency (i.e., evacuation or shelter-in-place). LEPCs and TEPCs ensure procedures are in place for notifying the public when a chemical accident occurs (via reverse 911 or other system) and that the public understands what to do when they receive that information.
We’re also working with industry associations to develop and distribute similar communications to plant managers and process safety officials to clarify their role and responsibilities in engaging LEPCs and communities in emergency preparedness and response planning efforts. Efforts focusing on community involvement, evacuation and shelter-in-place planning, environmental justice issues, and vulnerable populations are critical to enhancing chemical facility safety, for both employees and the surrounding communities. It takes engagement from all partners to make an impactful change and increase chemical facility safety for those working in and living around hundreds of thousands of chemical plants around the nation.

While we are aware of extensive engagement in communities throughout the nation to collectively address the issues mentioned above, we recognize that there are communities where industry, government, and community partners would benefit from support from the EPA in strengthening their local efforts. I understand this importance and encourage communities to utilize existing tools and resources to work together to achieve local goals.

Tools and Resources

To assist state, tribal, and local agencies in collecting, managing, and using this information, we worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO). CAMEO (http://www2.epa.gov/cameo) is a system of software applications used to plan for and respond to chemical emergencies. CAMEO assists chemical emergency planners and responders to access, store, and evaluate information critical for developing emergency plans. CAMEO is updated frequently to address needs raised by users throughout the nation. The most recent upgrades will help support local communities and first responders in their planning efforts.

Together, we can work to continue to strengthen the preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities. We are committed to continuing our support to all of you working every day to protect human health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.