Federal Agencies Report Progress on Chemical Safety
Agencies responsible for tightening chemical safety rules and procedures following a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant last year say they are making headway.
In a progress report released in December, a working group of federal agencies said it has held four public meetings, begun collaborations with state, local and tribal emergency responders and launched a pilot program testing new ways to share information about the storage of dangerous chemicals.
The report came from the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which is comprised of top-level officials from the Justice, Agriculture and Transportation departments. The task force is co-chaired by the EPA and the departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Labor.
It was authorized by an Executive Order President Barack Obama issued in August, which called for a review of existing chemical safety policies following the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion in April that claimed 15 lives, including those of emergency responders.
“The Working Group has taken important steps towards substantial improvements in practices, operations, protocols, and policies to improve chemical facility safety and security,” the agencies said.
The agencies are considering strengthening regulations already in place. For instance, revisions to DHS’s “chemicals of interest” list are under consideration, and an update is in the works to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives’ regulations that would require anyone storing explosive material to notify local fire departments annually.
“The Group also is assessing methods that Federal and State agencies can use to identify chemical facilities that have not met their regulatory obligation or are otherwise out of compliance with important safety and security requirements,” according to the report.
The Group said it is monitoring a pilot chemical data-sharing program being tried in New York and New Jersey. If successful, the initiative could serve as a model for a national program.
In addition, the Group has developed a “matrix of programs” that could be used to fill in gaps created by a patchwork of federal, state and local chemical safety and security policies.
They include increased training for first responders, technical support to states and local governments and improved data sharing between the various levels of government.
A draft plan laying out recommendations is expected to be completed early this year, according to the report. Ultimately, the plan is likely to lead to tightened regulations for the sale, storage and handling of dangerous chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, the substance believed to have caused the explosion at the fertilizer plant.
The Group also continues to seek public input on options for strengthening chemical facility safety and security that have been developed to date. Six listening sessions have been held around the country, with two more set. In a notice (https://www.osha.gov/chemicalexecutiveorder/Section_6ai_Options_List.html), the Group provided the options and gave the public 90 days for comment.