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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule Wednesday amending its risk management program regulations aimed at preventing accidental releases at chemical facilities such as the West, Texas, fertilizer disaster and improving emergency response activities when those releases occur.
The April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 12 emergency responders and three civilians and injured more than 260 others, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. It also gave new momentum to an effort to encourage the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to expeditiously pursue a formal rule-making for an emergency responder preparedness program standard.
The accidental release prevention regulations under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act — also known as the EPA risk management program regulations — require covered facilities to develop and implement a risk management program, according to the agency.
The amendments are intended to prevent catastrophic accidents by improving accident prevention program requirements, enhancing emergency preparedness to ensure coordination between facilities and local communities, improving information access to help the public understand the risks at risk management program facilities and improving third-party audits at these facilities.
While numerous chemical plants are operated safely, more than 1,500 accidents were reported by risk management program facilities in the last 10 years, according to the EPA. These accidents are responsible for causing nearly 60 deaths, about 17,000 people being injured or seeking medical treatment, almost 500,000 people being evacuated or sheltered-in-place and more than $2 billion in property damages.
“This rule is based on extensive engagement with nearly 1,800 people over the last two and a half years,” Mathy Stanislaus, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management in Washington, said in a statement. “These changes are intended to protect the lives of emergency responders and the public while preserving information security.”
A deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant highlights the importance of identifying, addressing and communicating such facilities' unique hazards, particularly since many are in or near population centers.