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Chemical Security Advocacy

Posted by Meg Cronin, PSR Toxics Intern on March 19, 2014

In the wake of the Freedom Industry spill that poisoned the drinking water for thousands of West Virginians, and the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in TX, President Obama issued an executive order to improve chemical facility safety and security. He was right to do so. 

I recently attended a U.S. Senate hearing about how his executive order should be implemented. The hearing highlighted several key issues:

  1. There are not enough inspectors of chemical facilities and they are not trained to the degree that would adequately prevent many of the incidents that have occurred. If the EPA is going to fix this problem, they need more resources to do so.
  2. There is not enough interagency collaboration.  EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have different rules for safety and different classifications of chemicals. Both agencies need to send the same message and need to update their lists and policies.
  3. With mounting pressure on EPA to create new regulations for chemical facilities (or update and strengthen them), industry is more eager than ever to adhere to self-imposed voluntary regulations.  However it’s unclear how effective and reliable voluntary actions would be. There seemed to be a surprising degree of trust from the Senate committee members that industry self-regulation would adequately protect U.S. workers and natural resources.

While this hearing productively identified key issues in overhauling U.S. chemical safety and security regulations, it didn’t shed light on how the grievous shortcomings in the current system can be fixed. PSR has joined with numerous health, environmental, and justice organizations to ask the EPA to adopt inherently safer technology (IST) requirements in order to prevent future chemical disasters. See the coalition letter sent to Senator Boxer which advocates for IST regulations.

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