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Court Orders EPA to implement Chemical Plant Safety Rule

For Immediate Release

The U.S. Court of Appeals (DC Circuit) has blocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule. This is a huge victory for Maryland, Already 4 chemical plants in Maryland have voluntarily made safety improvements outlined in the rule, better protecting 1.8 million Marylanders from exposure from a chemical plant or facility disaster. Now, some 12,500 facilities in Maryland and across the country will have to comply.

“This ruling can help protect millions of Marylanders living in the shadow of chemical plants,” explained Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. "These commonsense rules can protect first responders, workers, and our families from toxic chemical exposure."

PIRG testified in favor of this rule back in March 2016, and the Trump Administration-led EPA has needlessly delayed the implementation of the rule for almost a year and a half.

In September 2018, a release of chlorosulfuric acid occurred at the Solvay Chemicals Plant in Curtis Bay, just south of Baltimore, sparking a 1.2 mile-radius warning from officials. In this accident, a valve from a tanker separated from a trailer, causing the leak. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident. But industrial disasters throughout U.S. history, including several dangerous chemical explosions in recent years, showcase the urgent need for stronger enforcement of chemical plant safety regulations in our country. 

More than 40 percent of Americans live in the danger zone of a facility that stores or uses hazardous chemicals—facilities we assume have comprehensive safety rules in place in case of emergency, and one in every three schoolchildren in the U.S. attends a school within a danger zone.

According to the EPA, roughly 150 chemical disasters occur each year. In the worst cases, these disasters result in fatalities and serious injuries, with many others resulting in evacuations, and risk of harm to public health. One of the worst recent disasters occurred in Texas in 2013, when 15 Americans died in a chemical plant explosion. 

This Chemical Disaster Rule strengthens the federal Risk Management Program (RMP), which addresses some 12,500 facilities that use or store large quantities of highly toxic or highly flammable chemicals. Under the rule, chemical plants would have to engage in more coordination with local first responders to plan for incidents and make it easier for community members to learn about plant dangers. Further, the rule requires plants to evaluate whether they need greater safety improvements and emergency preparedness, such as strengthening backup power and practicing safety drills.

"The Chemical Disaster Rule is an important first step towards keeping communities safe," said Scarr,  "We need EPA to be increasing the protections required to protect our first responders and families in our communities, not rolling them back."

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