EPA Finalizes Stronger Safety Standards to Protect At-Risk Communities from Chemical Accidents

March 11, 2024
The EPA is announcing finalized amendments to the Risk Management Program to further protect at-risk communities from chemical accidents, especially those located near facilities in industry sectors with high accident rates. The “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule” includes EPA’s most protective safety provisions for chemical facilities in history, requiring stronger measures for prevention, preparedness, and public transparency. The rule protects the health and safety of all communities by requiring industry to prevent accidental releases of dangerous chemicals that could otherwise cause deaths and injuries, damage property and the environment, or require surrounding communities to evacuate or shelter-in-place.
“Many communities that are vulnerable to chemical accidents are in overburdened and underserved areas of the country,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This final rule is a critical piece of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing environmental justice by putting in place stronger safety requirements for industrial facilities and new measures to protect communities from harm.”
The final rule includes revisions to improve chemical process safety, to assist in planning, preparing for, and responding to accidents, and to increase public awareness of chemical hazards at regulated sources. The rule requires regulated facilities to perform a safer technologies and alternatives analysis, and in some cases, facilities will be required to implement reliable safeguard measures as practicable. This new requirement is expected to reduce the frequency and severity of accidents.
For example, in 2019, an explosion and fire at the TPC Group in Port Neches, Texas, resulted in the largest number of evacuees in history (50,000 people), as well as $153 million in offsite property damage. Had the provisions being finalized today been in effect prior to the TPC Group accident, the facility would have been required to perform a safer technologies and alternatives analysis and implement at least one safeguard measure, which may have mitigated or prevented the accident from occurring.
The final rule covers all 11,740 regulated RMP facilities across the country and contains more rigorous requirements for a subgroup of facilities that are more accident-prone and pose the greatest risk to communities. EPA estimates that accidental releases from RMP facilities cost society more than $540 million each year. There are approximately 131 million people living within three miles of RMP facilities, of which approximately 20 million identify as Black or African American, 32 million identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 44 million earn less than or equal to twice the poverty level.
The rule also includes provisions such as empowering workers in safety decisions and increasing access to RMP facility information for communities living and working in the surrounding areas. To further enhance public transparency, in the coming months, EPA is working toward making RMP information available on the agency’s website.
EPA incorporated robust stakeholder input and coordinated with other federal chemical safety and security agencies during the rulemaking process that were vital in developing a comprehensive proposal and effective final rule to further protect at-risk communities from chemical accidents. Final amendments to the rule include:
  • Requiring a safer technologies and alternatives analysis, and in some cases, implementation of reliable safeguard measures for certain facilities in industry sectors with high accident rates
  • Advancing employee participation, training, and opportunities for employee decision-making in facility accident prevention, for example:
  • Reiterating the allowance of a partial or complete process shutdown in the event of a potential catastrophic release.
  • Implementing a process to allow employees and their representatives to anonymously report specific unaddressed hazards.
  • Requiring third-party compliance audits and root cause analysis incident investigation for facilities that have had a prior accident.
  • Enhancing facility planning and preparedness efforts to strengthen emergency response by ensuring chemical release information is timely shared with local responders and a community notification system is in place to warn the community of any impending release.
  • Emphasizing the requirement for regulated facilities to evaluate risks of natural hazards and climate change, including any associated loss of power.
  • Increasing transparency by providing access to RMP facility information for communities nearby.
The rule will be published alongside a query tool which will allow people to access information for RMPs in nearby communities. The agency intends to update the tool in the coming months to allow visualization of climate change hazards, a request of several stakeholders. This commitment aligns with a key goal of the National Climate Resilience Framework—to equip communities with the information and resources needed to assess their climate risks and develop the climate resilience solutions most appropriate for them.
TSCA Chemical Data Reporting Violations Lead to $664,267 Penalty
The EPA announced a settlement requiring Haifa North America, Inc. (Haifa) in Altamonte Springs, Florida, to pay a civil $664,267 penalty for violations of chemical data reporting regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 
The EPA alleged that Haifa failed to submit a data report required under TSCA for 32 chemical substances that Haifa had imported between 2016 and 2019. The company imports various chemicals for businesses that formulate specialty fertilizers and plant nutrition solutions for agricultural applications.
“Companies are legally obligated under the Toxic Substances Control Act to report chemicals they import, process or manufacture, so Haifa’s failure to report the 32 chemicals they imported over a three-year span is in direct violation of our nation’s environmental laws,” said acting Regional Administrator Jeaneanne Gettle.
Companies are required to give the EPA information on the chemicals they manufacture or import into the United States for commercial purposes. The EPA uses the data to help assess the potential human health and environmental effects of these chemicals and makes the non-confidential business information available to the public.  Haifa’s failure to submit the required reports presented a potential harm to the EPA’s ability to maintain accurate and updated information regarding commercially-produced chemicals. The settlement agreement with the company resolves the alleged violations and requires the payment of a $664,267 civil penalty within 30 days.
Brick Manufacturer Cited for Exposing Workers to Respiratory Hazards
U.S. Department of Labor safety investigators found a Selma brick manufacturer exposed workers to silica crystalline respiratory hazards that have the potential to lead to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
OSHA cited Henry Brick Co. Inc. – a clay brick manufacturer – with 11 serious citations and proposed $124,212 in penalties. Specifically, the agency found the employer:
  • Exposed workers to airborne concentrations of respirable crystalline silica of up to six-and-a-half times the permissible exposure level.
  • Failed to evaluate and implement engineering controls and work practices to reduce and maintain employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica to or below the permissible exposure.
  • Failed to provide effective training on crystalline silica to employees exposed over the permissible exposure level.
  • Neglected to offer free medical surveillance, at a reasonable time and place, to employees exposed to respirable crystalline silica above the action level for 30 or more days per year.
  • Required employees to wear respirators without first providing training as required.
  • Neglected to fit test or provide medical evaluation for workers required to wear respirators.
  • Allowed employees to work in areas that required respirators without providing a respiratory protection program that met requirements.
"Crystalline silica can be deadly. Workers who are overexposed to it can contract incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal illnesses. This is why employers must take every precaution to protect employees from this danger," said OSHA Area Office Director Jose Gonzalez in Mobile, Alabama. "Employers with questions about how to develop respiratory protection programs can contact our trained professionals for assistance."
Nearly 2.3 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to silica while on the job. Breathing crystalline silica can cause multiple diseases, including incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death. To help protect workers, OSHA has issued two respirable crystalline silica standards.
Cal/OSHA Standards Board Approves Revisions to State Lead Standards
Proposed changes to California’s lead standards were approved by the Cal/OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board on Feb. 15, lowering the state’s permissible exposure limit for lead from 50 µg/mg3 to 10 µg/mg3 as an eight-hour time-weighted average and its action level from 30 µg/mg3 to 2 µg/mg3 (eight-hour TWA). According to a summary on the website of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), the proposed rule was designed to maintain workers’ blood lead levels (BLLs) below 10 µg/dL, four times lower than the target for existing lead regulations.
The Standards Board’s approval sends the proposal to the state’s Office of Administrative Law for final approval. The rule is not expected to become effective before Jan. 1, 2025.
The proposal establishes general hygiene requirements whenever workers are exposed to lead. Under the existing lead rule, hygiene requirements are mandated only when workers’ exposures exceed the permissible exposure limit.
Other changes include lowering the criteria for temporary removal from work with lead, known as medical removal protection, or MRP. Under the proposed rule, MRP would be triggered by one BLL reading of 30 µg/dL, down from 50 µg/dL in the current rule. Beginning one year after the proposed rule’s effective date, MRP will be triggered when a worker’s last two BLLs are at least 20 µg/dL or when the average of all BLLs in the last six months is at least 20 µg/dL. Workers’ BLLs must be at least 15 µg/dL before they can return to work involving lead. The current requirement for returning to work is 40 µg/dL.
Report Highlights Severe Injuries Among Contractors in Oil and Gas
Contract employers reported to OSHA the highest number of severe injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry during January 2015–July 2022, according to a report published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) earlier this month. The authors examined data from 32 states and territories under federal OSHA authority to determine trends in severe injuries in oil and gas extraction. Based on their findings, the authors urge oil and gas extraction operators to include contract workers in site safety management plans and improve training on job and equipment hazards. The authors note that this report could also be used to help guide the implementation of strategies to improve safety among workers in the oil and gas industry.
Contract workers in the well drilling and service subindustries—those engaged in drilling oil and gas wells or performing support activities for oil and gas operations—experienced disproportionately more injuries than those in the extraction or operation subsector, which primarily comprises companies that operate or develop oil and gas field properties. The oil and gas extraction industry reported a total of 2,101 severe work-related injuries during January 2015–July 2022. More than 93 percent of those injuries occurred among contractors—70.1 percent among contractors supporting oil and gas operations and 23.4 percent among contractors working in oil and gas well drilling. According to the report, the greater number of severe injuries among contract workers performing support activities “might be attributed to the temporary nature of most work in this subindustry, which is largely without a social safety net, and consists of high-hazard jobs for which workers do not receive consistent training.” Injuries among employees of oil and gas operators comprised just 6.5 percent of the total number of injuries.
The analysis also showed that injuries involving an upper extremity were the most reported, comprising 42.6 percent of all severe injury reports. Injuries involving a lower extremity followed; these were mentioned in 17.9 percent of reports. The leading types of injuries were open wounds and traumatic injuries to the bones, nerves, or spinal cord. More than 60 percent of these incidents were caused by contact with objects and equipment, followed by slips, trips, and falls, which led to 17.6 percent of incidents. Fires or explosions and exposures to harmful substances or environments were the third and fourth most common causes of severe work-related injuries among oil and gas extraction workers.
“These findings … underscore the necessity for [oil and gas extraction] operators to work with contracting companies to review their health and safety programs, interventions, and company safety procedures and address specific [work site] hazards to prevent the occurrence of severe injuries leading to hospitalizations and amputations specifically affecting upper and lower body extremities,” the report concludes.
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