Skip to Content

[X] CLOSEMAIN MENU

[X] CLOSEIN THIS SECTION

Header photo

News and Media

West Virginia Legislators Join More than 70 Other Elected Officials Calling on EPA to Prevent Chemical Disasters, Protect Workers and Prioritize Environmental Justice

      

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

#preventchemicaldisasters #FixtheRMP

CONTACT: Deidre Nelms, (802) 251-0203 ext. 711, dnelms@comingcleaninc.org

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: 

 

  • Prevent disasters by requiring hazard reduction. Many of the chemical facility incidents from the past could have been prevented if safer chemicals or processes were used in the first place. Root cause analyses of significant incidents, independent third-party safety audits, and other best practice prevention measures should also be mandatory.
  • Better prepare chemical facilities for climate impacts. This can be done by: expanding RMP coverage to more facilities in areas prone to natural disasters; building prompt implementation and compliance deadlines into new rules; requiring safer shutdown and startup procedures; collecting and publicly sharing air emissions data in real time; and requiring that communities receive timely information about natural disaster response plans in ways that are clearly communicated to those at risk.
  • Include common-sense emergency response and incident management measures. Back-up power, alerts in multiple languages (including advance community notification), real-time fenceline air monitoring, leak detection and repair, emergency response exercises, and similar best practices should not be optional.
  • Increase enforceability, corrective action, and accountability. There must be sufficient terms to assure RMP compliance, and require meaningful worker involvement, participation, and stop work authority (including an anonymous safety and near-miss hotline). Clear, expeditious compliance deadlines are essential.
  • Expand coverage of the RMP program. The current scope of the RMP program is inadequate. More facilities, processes and chemicals (including ammonium nitrate and other reactives) must be covered. One process or part of a facility should trigger coverage for the whole facility.
  • Account for cumulative hazards from multiple facilities and underlying vulnerabilities. RMP facilities are frequently located in close proximity to each other, as well as additional facilities that continuously release multiple pollutants. Oftentimes, communities neighboring these facilities - disproportionately made up of people of color and low income people - are faced with a host of other social and environmental conditions that increase their susceptibility to health threats. EPA must recognize that more layers of prevention are needed to protect communities where these cumulative hazards exist. 

 

“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.”

 

#   #   #