E.P.A. Sets New Rules to Limit Damage From Disasters at Chemical Facilities

The Biden administration recently issued new rules designed to prevent disasters at almost 12,000 chemical plants and other industrial sites nationwide that handle hazardous materials.

Administration officials called the stronger measures a step forward for safety at a time when hazards like floods and wildfires — made more extreme by global warming — pose a threat to industrial sites across the country. In 2017, severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey knocked out power at a peroxide plant outside Houston, causing chemicals to overheat and explode, triggering local evacuations.

The E.P.A. estimates that more than 130 million people live within three miles of sites that handle hazardous chemicals covered by the new rule. In a “worst-case scenario” accident, more than 2,000 of those sites could endanger 100,000 people or more, according to a 2020 Congressional Research Service report. Eighty-three of those facilities could endanger more than a million people in a worst-case scenario, the report said.

Facilities include chemical plants and wholesalers, oil refineries, natural gas plants, wastewater treatment plants, fertilizer distributors, many of them critical infrastructure, but also a risk to nearby communities.

One notable aspect of the new rules is their explicit requirement for facilities to address threats linked to climate change, such as wildfires and flooding. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent and severe, the E.P.A. aims to ensure that chemical facilities are adequately prepared to handle the challenges posed by climate-related disasters. This move aligns with the broader commitment to environmental resilience and the protection of vulnerable populations.

For the first time, facilities with a history of prior accidents will be subjected to independent audits, providing a thorough evaluation of their safety measures. Additionally, the rules mandate chemical plants to share more information with both neighbors and emergency responders. This increased transparency is crucial in fostering community awareness and preparedness in case of emergencies.

The regulations acknowledge the potential consequences of disasters at chemical facilities and aim to minimize the impact on surrounding communities. With more than 130 million people living within three miles of hazardous chemical sites covered by the new rules, the E.P.A. is taking a proactive approach to safeguarding public health.

The E.P.A. estimates that in a worst-case scenario, over 2,000 sites could endanger 100,000 people or more. Acknowledging the potential severity of such scenarios, the rules aim to strike a balance between economic productivity, environmental safety, and community well-being.

The implementation of these rules builds on efforts to strengthen safety measures at chemical facilities, a journey that faced setbacks in recent years. The new regulations reflect a commitment to learning from past incidents, ensuring accountability, and fostering a safer and more resilient future.

If your facility has a history of prior accidents and is planning to schedule an independent audit, we would love to connect with you and discuss how IFO Group could be of assistance. IFO Group auditors bring a wealth of experience from a diverse client base and various occupational work environments across different industries. This allows us to share best practices cultivated from our broad exposure, enhancing the effectiveness of each individual audit program. While audits are tailored to the specific nuances of each site or operation, there is a collective knowledge base held by third-party auditors. This industry-wide expertise enables us to validate existing safety programs and offer insightful recommendations for growth or improvement when necessary.  The objective stance of a third-party audit provides a more accurate view of your organization’s compliance landscape. Initial audits might reveal unexpected findings or non-conformances, but these discoveries often highlight long-standing issues that can be promptly addressed. Many clients are surprised by the depth of insight a truly independent audit can provide, leading to a positive return on investment (ROI) for the audit program.  Contact us at info@ifogroup.com or at 832-403-2135 to request a free consultation today.