CPLC members push EPA to strengthen chemical accidents rule

[Image: Dontree_m-Canva]

Last week, members of Clean Power Lake County spoke out during public Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings on a proposed update to the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. The update would partially restore critical chemical facility safety standards that were rolled back in 2019 by the Trump administration. It also proposes—for the first time ever—to require regulated facilities to account for the accelerating impacts of climate change.

Waukegan, Gurnee, and other municipalities in Lake County, Illinois, are surrounded by dangerous chemicals, like ethylene oxide (EtO). We know it is up to us to push for further protections.

Celeste Flores, a member of Clean Power Lake County’s steering committee, shared her concerns: 

I am calling today on behalf of 703,462 residents of Lake County, the third most populous county in Illinois, to urge the EPA to strengthen its Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule. 

While the rule is a step forward, it does not go far enough to prevent chemical disasters, keep workers safe, and advance environmental justice. I will suggest three specific ways the rules need to go further for community members.

1: As a community member, the EPA has not made it easy for me or others to access information about chemical facilities. Anyone should be able to access relevant chemical hazard information and how this information can help them protect themselves and their communities in the event of a chemical release.

The current EPA proposal to access information is too limiting; frankly, it makes me feel like y’all don’t want me to access it. Rather than provide limited access to chemical hazard information based on proximity to a facility, EPA should develop, no later than December 2023, a public, multilingual online database where any public member can access RMP facility information and risk management plans.

I am here this morning on my own time, starting work late, because I know how critical access to information is. Why should I continue to be expected to take time off, travel, and get through red tape to access this virtual information? 

2: The EPA should ensure that workers are included in disaster prevention and planning. The current rule must go further by requiring employers to have employees and their representatives at the decision-making table in developing risk management plans rather than merely requiring employers to consult with employees.

In Waukegan, Illinois, AB Specialty Silicones plant had an explosion in 2019. We lost 4 community members. Workers acted fast and alerted colleagues to get out but the loss of those 4 lives was preventable. Strengthening employees’ input can be done by this agency and that will lead to lives being saved. 

3: The EPA must require timely, multilingual community notification and real-time fenceline monitoring. We have seen the devastation one president can have on environmental justice communities. CPLC has been advocating for federal protections since 2013. We saw our wins taken away in the last administration. This agency has the opportunity to not only bring back protections but strengthen them and act with urgency to protect our lives. Lake County, Illinois, is 25% Hispanic/Latino. Waukegan, Illinois, is 60% Hispanic/Latino. It is critical for information to be multilingual.

It was not until late 2018 that I learned about the dangers of breathing ethylene oxide (EtO) on a daily basis. I have serious concerns about the lifelong impacts of breathing EtO daily. One of the community’s biggest questions when speaking about EtO is how much was being realized before late 2018. We will never know because this agency has not implemented fenceline monitoring.

My community deserves real-time fenceline monitoring to detect releases and provide the public with information about potentially toxic emissions like EtO. I know we have other chemicals being emitted into the air. Fenceline monitoring is also a critical tool for detecting unplanned releases and monitoring emissions following incidents. EPA must require RMP facilities to use real-time fenceline air monitors and make this information available to the public and first responders.

Here’s how you can help! 

It is up to us to push for further protections. You can help: Email your comments to www.regulations.gov/document/EPA-HQ-OLEM-2022-0174-0003 through October 31, 2022.

Email cplc@cleanpowerlakecounty.org for background materials (courtesy of our friends at Coming Clean Inc.) that can help you prepare your comments.


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