From spills to fires at industrial facilities to the recent train derailment in Ohio, it seems chemical accidents are making the news more and more. But it’s not just your imagination — a map by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters shows that chemical accidents are happening at a rate of one every two days in the U.S.
The Chemical Facility Incidents map allows viewers to see chemical-related incidents in their local areas. The coalition noted, “On average, there is a chemical fire, explosion or toxic release every two days in the U.S.”
In the first seven weeks of 2023, there have been more than 30 recorded incidents, as reported by The Guardian. However, the count could be higher, as the coalition does not record incidents that lack enough information or precise location data. The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters recorded 188 incidents in 2022 and 177 in 2021.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told The Guardian that it has had an average of 235 emergency response actions per year for the last decade, but it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact number of incidents with hazardous chemicals.
But these events are common across the country, putting many communities in danger of the next equipment malfunction, fire, leak or spill.
“What happened in East Palestine, this is a regular occurrence for communities living adjacent to chemical plants,” said Mathy Stanislaus, former assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of land and emergency management during Barack Obama’s presidency. “They live in daily fear of an accident.”
The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio is one of 10 railway incidents the coalition has recorded since April 2020. Most of the accidents are linked to industrial facilities that manufacture, use or store hazardous chemicals.
Poynter reported that around 124 million people, or 39% of the population in the U.S., live within 3 miles of at least one of these facilities. Stanislaus told The Guardian that about 200 million people are regularly at risk of exposure to chemicals following an accident, with people of color, low-income, and other disadvantaged groups at the most risk.
The EPA, under the Clean Air Act, has a Risk Management Program requiring facilities to have a protocol in place for risk management. The agency proposed updates for tighter regulations under the program in 2022, saying, “Accidents and chemical releases from RMP facilities occur every year. They cause fires and explosions, damage to property, acute and chronic exposures of workers and nearby residents to hazardous materials and result in serious injuries and fatalities.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many chemical industry organizations have opposed the proposed updates.
But increasing numbers of incidents, including the train derailment in East Palestine, have increased concern over safety and public health for communities across the country.
“Recent chemical disasters have highlighted shortcomings in federal regulations that fail to sufficiently protect workers and communities living near hazardous chemical facilities,” reads a recent letter to the EPA from 49 members of Congress.
The letter’s signees have called on the EPA to propose even stronger amendments to the Risk Management Program, including transitioning to safer chemicals, requiring third-party audits and providing more information about emergency response plans, even before incidents occur.