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Industrial Safety

US EPA again proposes risk management rule

EPA sees community and worker protection, industry claims overreach

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
August 19, 2022

Ruins of a building, a truck, and storage silos after the 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas.
Credit: Larry W. Smith/EPA/Newscom
The US Environmental Protection Agency has worked to update its chemical safety program ever since a deadly 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is again proposing revisions to its 30-year-old risk management program (RMP) for chemical facilities.

The proposed regulations would protect workers and vulnerable communities from chemical accidents, and especially people living near facilities that handle particularly dangerous chemicals and have high accident rates, the EPA said Aug. 19.

The agency finalized a similar regulation in the waning months of former president Barack Obama’s administration, but the rule was revoked under former president Donald J. Trump.

The new proposal would require RMP-covered facilities to develop procedures for informing the public about accidental releases of chemicals and require local responders to be notified of accidents and chemical releases. It calls for consideration of inherently safer processes and designs in RMP facilities as well as root cause analysis following an RMP-reportable incident. Additionally, third-party audits would be required following significant accidents at high-risk facilities.

Provisions would also require employee and community participation in oversight decisions, including incident investigations and compliance audits. Also, employees would be able to anonymously report RMP-related accidents or noncompliance issues.

The proposal would introduce the consideration of climate impacts.

The agency estimates the proposal would cost about $77 million annually to put in place.

The chemical industry opposes the proposal, according to the trade association the American Chemistry Council.

“We are very concerned this new proposal will depart from a collaborative and data-driven process to impose a scattershot approach of complex, unnecessary regulatory mandates,” ACC says in a statement. The group says the current RMP approach has resulted in a nearly 75% decline in incidents over the last several decades.

The RMP regulatory program affects some 12,500 facilities that use, make, or store highly hazardous chemicals. More than 100 million people live near these RMP-covered plants, according to the EPA.

The Obama-era EPA regulation was put in place after a multiyear, cross-agency review. It followed a deadly ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, in 2013, which killed 15 people, mostly emergency responders, and destroyed a school, a nursing home, residences, and an apartment building.



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