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West Virginia Legislators Join More than 70 Other Elected Officials Calling on EPA to Prevent Chemical Disasters, Protect Workers and Prioritize Environmental Justice
Letter to EPA Administrator Regan Urges Meaningful Reform of Rule that Manages Over 12,000 Chemical Facilities Nationwide
(January 26, 2022) - A letter was sent today by over 70 elected officials from 16 states and territories, including 7 representing West Virginia, to EPA Administrator Michael Regan urging meaningful reform of the federal policy that is intended to prevent chemical disasters. Unfortunately, explosions and toxic leaks occur regularly at high-risk chemical facilities, which disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities nationwide, making this a key environmental justice issue.
“The EPA has an important opportunity right now to prioritize environmental justice and stop chemical disasters,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, West Virginia House District 51. “We hope Administrator Regan will decide to protect the health and safety of low-income communities and communities of color across the country by updating the Risk Management Plan rule (RMP) in a meaningful way,” said Delegate John Doyle, West Virginia House District 67. “We hope Administrator Regan will do the right thing,” said Delegate Kayla Young, West Virginia House District 35.The letter was also signed by Delegates Jim Barach, Evan Hansen, Mike Pushkin, and Danielle Walker.
“We and our constituents are unwilling to continue living with the constant threat of chemical disasters that could destroy our neighborhoods, businesses, and communities, when safer chemicals and technologies exist,” reads the letter. “ Injuries, death and disease are not acceptable risks, and our communities are not sacrifice zones.”
The letter centers around the EPA’s Risk Management Plan, or RMP, rule which regulates over 12,000 high-risk chemical facilities nationwide and is currently being updated. Legislators who have signed onto the letter urging meaningful updates to the RMP rule represent a diverse number of states and territories, including Colorado, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, DC, and West Virginia. The full letter and list of signatories can be seen here.
There are 76 facilities that store, use or produce certain hazardous chemicals in the state of West Virginia regulated by the RMP. In December, 2020, a fatal explosion occurred at the Optima Chemical Plant in Belle, West Virginia, requiring a shelter-in-place for community members within a 2-mile radius of the facility. Another explosion at the same plant occurred in July, 2021. Fatal chemical releases are far from unfamiliar to West Virginians. In January, 2010, at the DuPont facility in Belle, West Virginia, a worker was killed after being sprayed in the face by phosgene, an agent so deadly that it was used as a chemical weapon during World War I. This was only one in a series of releases of highly toxic chemicals at the facility that occurred within three days. Less than two years before, shrapnel from an explosion at a pesticide manufacturing unit at the Bayer CropScience chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia careened at an aboveground storage tank containing the same deadly chemical, as the 1984 deadly release in Bhopal, India. One worker died instantly. Another died 41 days later in a hospital burn unit.
“It’s time that the EPA implements these protections that many people in my home community have been seeking for decades,” said Kathy Ferguson, a spokesperson for People Concerned About Chemical Safety, an environmental justice organization in the Kanawha Valley dedicated to the protection of health and safety to all who reside, work, and study in the vicinity of local chemical plants producing highly toxic chemicals.
The letter specifically calls for the following measures to be included in the updated RMP:
“Our states, cities, and constituents cannot wait any longer for companies to voluntarily decide to remove these hazards at their convenience,” says the letter. “Chemical incidents can be prevented by incorporating common-sense policies into a strengthened RMP. Many safer chemicals and processes already exist, and more can be developed. What is missing, but urgently needed, are national requirements for transition to safer alternatives whenever possible, and other proven measures that can help prevent disasters.”
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