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In Baltimore this morning, a release of chlorosulfuric acid occurred at the Solvay Chemicals Plant in Curtis Bay, sparking a 1.2 mile-radius warning from officials. Curtis Bay is a residential, industrial, and commercial community and the 1.2 mile radius included parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County such as Brooklyn, Brooklyn Park, and east Glen Burnie. In this accident, a valve from a tanker separated from a trailer, causing the leak. The chemical involved is chlorosulfuric acid. Chlorosulfuric acid can cause burning to the eyes, nose, throat (esophagus) and scarring on the lungs if exposure levels are high enough. Officials said the leak has been stopped, and lifted the shelter in place order at 1:30 PM.
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. More than 100 million Americans live within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility, and one in every three schoolchildren in the U.S. attends a school within a danger zone.
Commonsense regulations could help us to avoid these explosions, and may have averted this current disaster. In June, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was delaying an Obama-era rule aimed at improving safety at U.S. chemical plants. This rule would have strengthened 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 new rules, Solvay and other 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 would require plants to evaluate whether they need greater safety improvements and emergency preparedness, such as strengthening backup power and practicing safety drills.
Maryland PIRG urges the Trump administration to implement the regulations requiring more coordination with emergency management, to have greater regulations on these facilities, and to provide more money for research into non-toxic alternatives for many of these chemical plants. Our thoughts are with Baltimore, the Curtis Bay community and the first responders on the scene at this time.
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