Chemical Risks Remain as We Wait for Federal Chemical Safety Reforms
by Sofia Plagakis, 12/19/2013
Chemical incidents and injuries steadily continue as we wait for federal efforts to improve chemical safety and security to bear fruit. Last Friday, two employees were burned in a chemical explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant in Alsip, IL. This explosion is one of several across the country that have caused injuries and deaths in recent months. These chemical incidents highlight the risks that hazardous chemicals can pose to workers and communities and the urgent need for chemical reform.
The fire at Blue Island Phenol, located about 21 miles outside of Chicago, demolished one facility building and damaged another. Outside the facility the fire closed roads, shut down the natural gas line to the area, and forced five neighboring businesses to close temporarily. Although the fire and explosion are still being investigated, propane, propylene and cancer-causing benzene were among the chemicals said to be involved. Blue Island Phenol produces acetone and phenol, which is used to manufacture certain herbicides, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Every day, more than 100 million people in the United States live and work near chemical facilities that store dangerous hazardous chemicals. Safer and cost-effective chemicals and processes are available, and hundreds of facilities have already switched, but only a fraction of these facilities have voluntarily converted.
Earlier this month, three federal agencies--the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration--were expected to announce new policy options to improve the safety and security at the country's 12,000 chemical facilities. On Aug. 1, President Obama directed the agencies to develop new policy options within 90 days. The government shutdown, which lasted 16 days, stalled the deadline. As a result, the policy options were expected in early December.
But, the review and options are now almost a month overdue. Many groups are hoping that the policy options will include changes that would strengthen agencies' ability to require the use of safer chemicals and technologies. Since chemical accidents continue to occur, it is vital for the agencies to move quickly to update our chemical safety and security policies and reduce the risks workers and communities continue to face.