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

               

FOR IMMEDIATE RELASE:

#preventchemicaldisasters #FixtheRMP

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

Delaware 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 Plan 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 5 from Delaware, 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 are disproportionately located in communities of color and low-income communities nationwide, making this a key environmental justice issue.

“For decades our constituents have lived under the constant threat of explosions or major toxic releases from industrial facilities in our neighborhoods, never knowing what or when the next disaster will be,” said Representative Larry Lambert of District 7. “Now, we are calling for change.” Representatives Franklin D. Cooke Jr. of District 16 and Dee Durham of District 2, and ​​Wilmington Councilmembers Maria D. Cabrera and Bregetta Fields were also signatories of the letter. 

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

 “In just ten years, there were over 1,500 reported chemical releases or explosions at RMP facilities nationwide,” reads the letter. “Injuries, death and disease are not acceptable risks, and our communities are not sacrifice zones.” 

There are 28 facilities that store, use or produce certain hazardous chemicals in the state of Delaware, which are regulated by the RMP rule. Research has shown that communities of color and low-income communities in Delaware face a disproportionately high risk of cancer and respiratory hazards due to their proximity to these facilities. 

In 2018, a plant at the Croda facility in New Castle, Delaware released thousands of pounds of explosive and carcinogenic ethylene oxide gas into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Croda facility was cited again for exceeding its annual emission limit for ethylene oxide in 2020.

“As a New Castle resident, it is terrifying to hear about huge releases of cancer-causing chemicals in our backyard. Even worse, we don’t find out about them until hours or weeks later due to lack of community notification, so we can’t take action to protect our families,” said Miss Dora Williams, a volunteer with Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice. "The EPA must do more to hold companies like Croda accountable and prevent chemical disasters from happening again." Williams lives along the Route 9 corridor, an area in New Castle, Delaware that is overburdened by the cumulative impacts of pollution from several industrial facilities, legacy contamination and a history of disinvestment due to racism. 

 

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.”

 

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