EPA Strengthens Protections Against Toxic Chemical Releases

March 1, 2024
Lexi Ambrogi, (973) 960-0073, lambrogi@edf.org

(WASHINGTON – March 1, 2024) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today took important steps to strengthen safeguards intended to prevent toxic chemical disasters at thousands of industrial facilities across the country.

EPA announced its final updates to the Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention rule, strengthening the Risk Management Program (RMP), a Clean Air Act requirement for the agency to provide protections to prevent and respond to chemical accidents at industrial facilities. “EPA’s action today is a foundational step toward protecting the health and safety of communities and workers on the fenceline of the petrochemical industry,” said Dionne Delli-Gatti, associate vice president, Community Engagement at Environmental Defense Fund. “This rule includes important additional safeguards to hold polluting facilities accountable for the risks they pose to communities.”

“People living near the thousands of industrial sites that use extremely toxic and flammable substances face the risk of chemical leaks, fires, spills, explosions and other potentially catastrophic events,” said Dominique Browning, vice president at Moms Clean Air Force. “Over one in every three school children in the U.S. attends a school within the danger zone of these facilities. Children are uniquely vulnerable to the health impacts caused by toxic chemical exposures such as respiratory illnesses and cancers. Moms—and all caregivers—support EPA’s important step in the strengthening of the Risk Management Program. We urge EPA to swiftly implement and enforce the new rules to help protect the health and safety of all children.”

The RMP rule requires facilities that use hazardous substances to develop a plan to evaluate risks from chemical releases, take steps to prevent them from happening and develop detailed emergency response plans. These plans are critical to help prevent chemical disasters and guide first responders and nearby communities to prepare for and respond to chemical disasters if they occur. Today’s standards will require a series of improvements to these plans, including increased evaluation of risks associated with climate change and requirements for certain high-risk facilities to consider and implement safer alternative technologies.

Toxic chemical disasters are far too common, and many facilities that process hazardous chemicals are located in areas facing greater risks from severe weather driven by climate change. In 2023, a chemical disaster occurred nearly every day in the U.S. A stronger, more protective RMP rule can help to prevent harm to communities, especially those on the fenceline of the chemical industry that face the greatest risks from exposure to this pollution.

These protections can also help to advance environmental justice—recent EDF research on who is bearing the burden of exposure to petrochemical pollution adds to a growing body of evidence indicating that communities of color are more at risk than others.

The updated rule contains a number of other provisions intended to safeguard public health and safety, including requiring consideration and implementation of safer alternatives, requiring back-up power for air pollution monitoring equipment and increased transparency and community access to facilities’ plans.

EDF and Moms Clean Air Force submitted joint comments to EPA in support of a strong final RMP rule when the agency first announced the updates in the fall of 2022.

# # #

One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund