Climate-related incidents need to be accounted for in process safety

Article by Amanda Doyle

EPA urged to take stronger action to protect workers and the public

ENVIRONMENTAL and scientific advisory groups have called on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take stronger action to protect workers and the public from chemical disasters exacerbated by climate change.

The policy brief from the Center for Progressive Reform, Earthjustice, and the Union of Concerned Scientists issues a call for reform on the EPA’s response to natech disasters. Natech – or natural hazard triggering technological disasters – refers to when natural hazards such as storms or earthquakes contribute to or coincide with a process safety incident at an industrial facility.

The EPA’s Risk Management Programme (RMP) regulates facilities that use, store, or manage hazardous chemicals, and is responsible for preventing incidents and protecting workers and the community. Currently, 12,331 facilities are regulated under the RMP which include refineries, chemical manufacturers, water treatment plants, industrial agriculture facilities, and pulp and paper mills. The brief identified 3,856 facilities which are located on sites prone to risks from events such as flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires – all of which are becoming more frequent and more intense due to climate change. The number of vulnerable facilities is likely to be an underestimate as data is currently not available for all natural disaster risks.

The RMP currently doesn’t address natech events or require facilities to take action to protect the surrounding communities against these risks. The Obama-era Chemical Disaster Rule would have addressed some of the gaps in the RMP, however the Trump administration rescinded this rule. While the Biden administration is planning to review the RMP, the brief notes that it is unclear what new action might be taken. It says that new rules must strengthen regulations, not just restore the Obama-era ones.

It gives the example of the Arkema chemical plant fire, where flooding due to Hurricane Harvey in 2017 caused a power outage that led to the combustion of organic peroxide. The fumes and smoke resulted in 21 people seeking medical attention. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) found that the facility’s process hazard analysis did not adequately identify the risks associated with flooding and hurricanes.

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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