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Faith leaders call on EPA to strengthen chemical disaster rule

Faith leaders make the moral case for strengthening Risk Management Plan rule, joining health professionals, security experts and members of Congress

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

by Coming Clean & the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform

Media Contact: Deidre Nelms, dnelms@comingcleaninc.org, 802-251-0203 ext. 711

 

Over 100 faith leaders and organizations sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan today, urging the agency to strengthen and expand its Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule, which is intended to prevent chemical disasters at high-risk facilities nationwide and is currently being updated.

Chemical releases, fires, and explosions are shockingly common in the United States. In just ten years, there have been over 1,500 reported chemical releases or explosions at facilities regulated under the RMP rule, causing 17,000 reported injuries and 59 reported deaths. But deadly chemical incidents could be prevented if RMP facilities were required to transition to safer processes, faith leaders state in the letter. Their calls echo those of health professionals, security experts, and members of Congress who have also demanded meaningful reforms to the RMP rule in recent months.

“As faith leaders, it is our role to protect our communities, and particularly those who are at greatest risk of harm,” reads the letter. “We and those we are morally sworn to protect 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.”

The letter calls on the EPA to: better prepare chemical facilities for climate change impacts, in line with the recommendations of a recent Government Accountability Office report; include common-sense emergency response measures like back up power, alerts in multiple languages, advance community notification, and real-time fenceline air monitoring; expand coverage of the RMP program to more facilities and chemicals, including ammonium nitrate; and account for the cumulative health impacts of RMP facilities clustered in areas already facing numerous health stressors. 

“We need our federal government and EPA to have the moral courage to implement these protections” reads the letter, signed by faith leaders and organizations from 25 states and the District of Columbia. 

"Health is sacred - but in New York alone there are 198 facilities that store or use hazardous chemicals- and few New Yorkers are aware of how close they are to schools, places of worship and hospitals," said Reverend Amy Brooks, North America Organizing Coordinator of the interfaith environmental group GreenFaith. "The EPA has a moral obligation to make sure these facilities are held to higher safety standards."

"Chemical fires, releases and explosions are all too common in West Virginia, putting too many community members at risk" said Reverend Jeffrey Allen, Executive Director of the West Virginia Council of Churches. "The EPA must do more to prevent chemical disasters and protect our communities."

"There are 481 facilities that store or use hazardous chemicals in Pennsylvania, which are disproportionately located in communities of color" said Pastor Wakaki Thompson, of Macedonia Baptist Church in Newtown, PA. "Many of these facilities are in flood zones- EPA should act now to prevent dangerous chemical releases by strengthening the chemical disaster rule."

 "The EPA should do everything it can to ensure that these facilities don't pose a danger to our communities,” said Rabbi Dr. Raysh Weiss, of Yardley, PA.  

“Last month marked the 75th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster, the deadliest industrial disaster in US history and one of our collective history's largest non-nuclear explosions. A fire started on the SS Grandcamp, a cargo ship docked in the Port of Texas City, igniting 2,300 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer in its hold. The resulting explosion leveled the dock and surrounding industrial area and ignited two more explosions, ” said Reverend James L Caldwell, founder and director of the Coalition of Community Organizations in Houston, Texas. “The US EPA must act to prevent future disasters, and expand the RMP program to regulate this highly flammable chemical and all other such chemicals with the potential to jeopardize the long-term sustainability of Texans and Texas ecosystems - air, water and land.”

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Coming Clean is a collaborative network of frontline community activists, environmental justice organizations, and policy, science and market experts, committed to transforming the chemical industry so that it is no longer a source of harm. For twenty years, we have fought to end legacy pollution in communities of color, ban toxic pesticides that harm farmworkers and their families, regulate hazardous facilities, and end the sale of unsafe products in dollar stores and other retailers across the country.

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform is a national network of grassroots Environmental and Economic Justice organizations and advocates in communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals from legacy contamination, ongoing exposure to polluting facilities and health-harming chemicals in household products. EJHA supports a just transition towards safer chemicals and a pollution-free economy that leaves no community or worker behind.