Irresponsible Care

The Failure of the Chemical Industry to Protect the Public from Chemical Accidents

This report analyzes accident data compiled by the National Response Center, the sole national point of contact for reporting oil and chemical discharges into the environment in the United States, for 1990 through 2003.


U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Thousands of industrial chemical facilities put millions of Americans at risk of serious injury or death in the event of a chemical accident. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the main lobbying organization that advocates on behalf of chemical companies, started the Responsible Care® program in 1988 to deflect criticism of the industry’s environmental and public safety track record. Responsible Care® is a voluntary system of environmental, health and safety measures, including a Security Code that claims to make facilities less vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, the safety record of ACC member companies since the inception of Responsible Care® shows that these voluntary measures are not enough to protect communities from a chemical release in the event of an accident or terrorist attack.

This report analyzes accident data compiled by the National Response Center, the sole national point of contact for reporting oil and chemical discharges into the environment in the United States, for 1990 through 2003. We looked only at ACC member companies, who are required to adopt the Responsible Care® guidelines as a condition of their membership in the trade association. Key findings include:

• Since 1990, two years after the implementation of Responsible Care®, at least 25,188 accidentsa have occurred at current ACC member companies’ facilities.

• On average, 1,800 accidents occurred at ACC facilities each year, or five chemical accidents a day.

• Since 1990, two years after the Responsible Care® program was created, accidents have not declined at ACC member companies’ facilities. In fact, the number of accidents increased in 2002, the year the chemical industry claimed to increase security and safety measures in the wake of September 11 th , 2001.

• BP, Dow, and DuPont had the most accidents at their facilities since 1990. BP had at least 3,565 accidents at its facilities, Dow had 2,562, and DuPont had 2,115. These three companies were responsible for nearly one third (32.7 percent) of all the accidents at ACC member facilities since 1990.

• The top 25 ACC member companies were responsible for 21,064 accidents, or more than 83 percent of all ACC accidents.

• The states experiencing at least 500 accidents at ACC member facilities since 1990 are: Texas, Louisiana, Alaska, Ohio, South Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, New York, Indiana and New Jersey.

Many of these accidents occurred at ACC companies’ facilities that are currently or have been under investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board:

• In March 2001, at the BP Amoco Polymers plant in Augusta, Georgia, a pressurized tank ruptured and ejected boiling plastic, killing three workers and causing a fire.

• At the Honeywell Baton Rouge plant in Louisiana, multiple chemical releases in July and August 2003 caused hundreds of evacuations, multiple hospitalizations and a fatality. Four plant workers were hospitalized and residents within a half-mile radius evacuated when chlorine gas was released from the chemical plant on July 20, 2003. Just nine days later, an accidental release of antimony pentachloride killed a worker. Finally, in early August, at this same plant in Baton Rouge, two plant workers were hospitalized after they were exposed to hydrofluoric acid.

The voluntary precautions of Responsible Care® are not enough to protect Americans from accidental chemical releases or the possibility of terrorist attacks. Instead, all chemical facilities should be required to meet mandatory federal standards for security. Most importantly, new federal standards must focus on reducing or eliminating the possibility of accidents and attacks through the use of safer chemicals and processes.

The National Response Center database includes every accident and incident reported to the agency. These accidents range from an oil sheen to a major disaster that resulted in casualties. The NRC data provides the best overall picture of security at chemical and oil facilities. In addition, even a minor accident involving hazardous chemicals can result in serious injury.