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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Hometown Emergency as Youth Spurs EPA Career in Heartland Ag Outreach

By Kris Lancaster

“Go get your grandmother!” my uncle shouted as a deadly white cloud of anhydrous ammonia drifted menacingly above my hometown of Memphis, Mo., in 1970, where I worked as a teenager at my family’s agribusiness.

Lancaster family agribusiness

Lancaster family agribusiness

I vividly remember my uncle’s face 45 years later, and the weight on my shoulders to evacuate Grandmother Lancaster. I raced to her house and convinced her to go with me to my uncle’s home. After she was safe, I ran to other homes and knocked on the doors to alert my neighbors of the danger. After a few hours, hundreds of nearby residents were safely evacuated.

The emergency was triggered when a fitting on an anhydrous ammonia tanker disconnected from the storage tank, resulting in the release of nearly 20 tons of the airborne chemical. The truck driver and a neighbor helping at the scene were injured.

Many people don’t associate risk with agriculture, but some of the chemicals used can be dangerous. The 1970 incident had a huge impression on me. I realized that exposure to anhydrous ammonia can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and can cause injuries or even death. This chemical is widely used as a source of nitrogen fertilizer for corn, milo and wheat.

That accidental release happened before EPA was created. Since then, most of the agribusinesses in Region 7 have worked well with EPA and handled these volatile chemicals very responsibly.

Anhydrous ammonia tanks

Anhydrous ammonia tanks

EPA regulates anhydrous ammonia through the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule. Our goal is to prevent releases that could harm the public and environment. Agricultural retail facilities that handle, process, or store more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia were first required to be in compliance with the RMP Rule in 1999.

At the Lancaster agribusiness, my job in the 1960s and 1970s included loading and unloading fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate. In Scotland County, Mo., this fertilizer was used by farmers primarily as a top dressing for wheat and applied on pastureland.

On April 17, 2013, a fire at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, resulted in the detonation of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, killing 15 people. Since then, EPA and its partner agencies have stepped up outreach efforts with retailers, responders, and agribusiness associations across the country to help prevent future tragedies.

Today, it’s gratifying to know that EPA is continually reaching out to the ag community in the Heartland to protect workers, responders, and the public from dangerous chemical incidents. I’m proud to work with our agribusinesses to help keep our communities safe.

Visit these EPA Region 7 links for more information:
Agriculture page
Chemical Risk Programs page
Preventing Accidental Anhydrous Ammonia Releases video

About the Author: Kris Lancaster specializes in agricultural relations for EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. After graduating from Central Missouri State University, he worked for the chairman of the Missouri House Ag Committee and later, for the ranking member of the U.S. House Ag Committee. His family owns a row-crop farm in Scotland County, Mo. Kris has three decades of media relations experience.

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.