As a direct result of a chemical facility explosion that killed 15 people, the federal government has released a final rule for chemical facilities intended to protect the lives of emergency responders and the public.
The EPA has finalized a rule amending its Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations to reduce the likelihood of accidental releases at chemical facilities.
The amendments are an action item in response to President Obama’s Executive Order, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.
President Obama issued the order following the explosion at the West Texas fertilizer facility in 2013 that killed 12 emergency responders and 3 members of the public; injured more than 260 people; damaged or destroyed 150 buildings; and incurred losses totaling an estimated $230 million.
The major provisions of this rule make changes in three areas:
- Accident prevention program revisions: The rule requires certain facilities to conduct a root cause analysis as part of an incident investigation of a catastrophic release or an incident that could have reasonably resulted in a catastrophic release (a near miss). Regulated facilities would also have to contract with a third-party to perform a compliance audit after the facility has an RMP reportable incident. Also, certain owners and operators would have to conduct a safer technology and alternatives analysis as part of their process hazard analysis.
- Emergency response enhancements: Owners or operators of certain facilities would have to coordinate with local emergency response agencies at least once a year to ensure they are aware of the regulated substances at the facility. Some facilities would also have to conduct notification exercises each year. All facilities subject to the emergency response program requirements are required to conduct field exercises and tabletop exercises.
- Enhanced availability of information: The rule requires all facilities to provide certain basic information to the public, upon request, about chemical hazards present. The rule also requires all facilities to hold a public meeting for the local community within 90 days of an RMP reportable incident. EPA is requiring the owner or operator of a facility to share information that is relevant to emergency response planning as part of the coordination activities that occur annually between facility representatives and local emergency response agencies.
“These changes are intended to protect the lives of emergency responders and the public while preserving information security,” said Mathy Stanislaus, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management.
In the last 10 years, more than 1,500 incidents were reported by RMP facilities. These incidents were responsible for causing nearly 60 deaths, 17,000 injuries, almost half a million evacuations and more than $2 billion in property damage.