Chemical catastrophes appear to be making the news more frequent, from spills to fires at industrial plants to the most recent train derailment in Ohio. But it’s not only in your head. According to a map created by the Alliance to Prevent Chemical Disasters, there is one chemical mishap in the United States every two days.
Viewers can examine chemical-related incidents in their immediate surroundings on the Chemical Facility Incidents map. According to the coalition, a chemical fire, explosion, or toxic spill occurs in the United States around every two days.
According to The Guardian, there have been more than 30 occurrences reported in the first seven weeks of 2023. The number could actually be greater, though, as the coalition does not keep track of events for which there is insufficient information or accurate geographical data. 188 occurrences were reported by the Coalition to Avoid Chemical Disasters in 2022 and 177 in 2021.
Although it can be challenging to estimate the precise number of events involving hazardous chemicals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told The Guardian that it has averaged 235 emergency response actions annually for the past ten years.
The fact that these occurrences are frequent across the nation puts many communities in danger of the next piece of equipment failing, catching fire, leaking, or spilling.
According to Mathy Stanislaus, a former assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of land and emergency management during Barack Obama’s presidency, what happened in East Palestine is a common occurrence for communities living close to chemical industries. They constantly live in terror of an accident.
The organization has documented 10 railroad incidents since April 2020, including the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The majority of accidents are connected to commercial locations that produce, utilize, or store dangerous substances.
According to Poynter, 39% of Americans, or 124 million individuals, reside within three miles of at least one of these sites. According to Stanislaus, there are 200 million individuals who frequently run the risk of being exposed to chemicals as a result of an accident, with people of color, low-income families, and other disadvantaged groups running the greatest risk.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA maintains a risk management program that mandates that facilities have a risk management process in place. In 2022, the government proposed modifications for stricter program restrictions, stating that accidents and chemical leaks from RMP facilities happen frequently.
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These result in severe injuries and fatalities, fires and explosions, property damage, and acute and long-term exposure of workers and local communities to hazardous materials.
The planned modifications have been challenged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and numerous organizations in the chemical industry.
Yet, an increase in occurrences, such as the train derailment in East Palestine, has raised concerns about safety and public health for communities across the nation.
According to a recent letter to the EPA from 49 members of Congress, previous chemical mishaps have brought to light flaws in federal regulations that fall short of adequately protecting workers and communities residing near hazardous chemical sites.
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The signatories to the letter have urged the EPA to put forth even more stringent changes to the Risk Management Program, such as switching to safer chemicals, mandating outside audits, and disclosing more details on emergency response plans even before events take place.