From E&E News:
Sam Pearson, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, January 18, 2016
“Minorities and the poor are far more likely to live near the highest-risk chemical plants, a chemical safety watchdog group said in a new report.
The Center for Effective Government analyzed the demographics of people who live within a mile of the 12,545 facilities included in U.S. EPA’s chemical risk management program.
The agency requires the sites to file contingency plans because they handle high quantities of the most hazardous chemicals. The plants under scrutiny generally report safety incidents at twice the rate of facilities in predominantly white neighborhoods.
The group released the report over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to draw attention to the siting of chemical plants as an underappreciated social justice issue.
“Our nation’s chemical policies are failing to protect our most vulnerable populations,” Ronald White, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government, said in a statement. “These include children and the elderly, who are the most susceptible to chemical hazards and among the least able to evacuate should a disastrous release occur.”
The group found that minorities and people living in poverty are far more likely to live near high-hazard sites compared with whites or people who earn incomes that put them above the poverty line.
More than a quarter of children who live near these sites are younger than 5, putting them at higher risk of harm from an accidental chemical release, the report found.
The latest document expands on previous findings from crunching EPA data and other demographic records. The group has previously found that millions of children go to school near higher-risk facilities (Greenwire, Sept. 30, 2014).
The group, pointing to its research, said EPA must require chemical facilities to use safer ingredients and processes whenever possible.
It also demanded that the agency pay more attention to environmental justice issues by requiring new reviews and mitigation plans tied to how chemical facilities affect surrounding neighborhoods.
Governments could also put zoning laws in place to prevent new or expanded high-risk chemical facilities near homes and schools, and keep new homes and schools away from areas where facilities are already present, the group said.
Regulators should also conduct continuous monitoring of emissions at the sites and subject them to enhanced workplace safety and environmental laws, the report said.
New policies have been top priorities of chemical safety groups for years but have received little traction among EPA leaders. The chemical industry opposes them as overly burdensome.
Safety advocates say EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told them last year that the agency would not pursue a proposal to require plants to use safer chemicals and processes, citing the complexity of such rulemaking (E&ENews PM, Nov. 6, 2015). EPA later declined to confirm the comments because the meeting was private.”
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