U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Across the United States, thousands of industrial facilities use and store hazardous chemicals in large quantities that pose major risks to their neighbors. More than 100 of these facilities would each put at least one million people at risk of injury or death in the event of a chemical accident or terrorist attack.
When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, it required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish regulations and guidance for chemical accident prevention at facilities using extremely hazardous substances. EPA established the Risk Management Program, requiring companies of all sizes that use certain flammable and toxic substances to develop a Risk Management Plan (RMP), including a hazard assessment that details the potential effects of an accidental release.
We reviewed the RMPs submitted by facilities using hazardous chemicals and found that a single company owning many facilities or a single facility in a large population center can endanger thousands and even millions of people.
Specifically, we found:
• The “Dangerous Dozen:” The 12 companies endangering the most people are JCI Jones Chemical, The Clorox Company, Kuehne Chemical, KIK Corporation, DuPont, Pioneer Companies, Clean Harbors, GATX Corporation, PVS Chemicals, Dow Chemical, Ferro Corporation and Occidental Petroleum.
• The facilities owned by JCI Jones Chemical, The Clorox Company, and Kuehne Chemical put more than 20 million, 14 million, and 12 million people at risk, respectively.
• Between 1990 and 2003, companies, employees and concerned citizens reported more than 8,400 accidents involving oil or chemicals at facilities owned by these 12 parent companies to the National Response Center (NRC).
• Six of the 12 companies are members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the trade association representing the chemical industry in Washington, DC. ACC spent $4.3 million over 2002 and 2003 on in-house lobbyists, advocating against any mandatory standards for chemical plant security.
Many chemical facilities could mitigate or eliminate the risk they pose to surrounding communities. Industries often have multiple options for carrying out similar processes, and some of these options are inherently safer than others. Facilities that use fewer or smaller quantities of hazardous chemicals, or even make changes to storage pressure or other processes, eliminate the possibility of on-site chemical accidents and make themselves less appealing terrorist targets.
Most industrial facilities have not responded to the increased awareness of terrorism by switching to inherently safer technologies. Instead, industry organizations such as the American Chemistry Council have placed limited emphasis on increasing physical security at plants. Hiring more guards, building more fences, and placing more lights may all be part of a good security plan, but this does not actually reduce the threat to the community.
In order to protect communities in the shadow of chemical plants and other industrial facilities, we need to focus on reducing the likelihood of a catastrophic accident or attack.
• Switching chemicals and processes to something less volatile not only reduces the chemical hazard to the community, but also reduces the need for costly add-on security measures and the attractiveness of the facility as a target for attack. We need mandatory federal standards to protect communities from the hazards posed by chemical plants around the country by requiring facilities to switch to safer chemicals and processes where possible.
• The “Dangerous Dozen” companies should immediately review options for reducing hazards at their plants and set measurable goals and timelines for implementing hazard reductions.