Chemical catastrophe: daily disasters spotlight America’s toxic time bomb

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In the wake of a recent chemical plant fire in Texas, a disturbing trend has emerged, spotlighting the alarming frequency of hazardous chemical incidents in the United States. A new report reveals that such events, including explosions, fires, and toxic releases, are occurring nearly every day, with a notable concentration in the fossil fuel industry.

The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters’ online database indicates a startling 287 incidents this year alone, and over 825 since early 2021. This rate, nearly one per day, underscores a systemic failure in managing chemical hazards, particularly within the fossil fuel sector.

Maya Nye of Coming Clean, a coalition member, stresses the preventable nature of these incidents, emphasizing the need for better protections for communities and workers. The latest analysis from Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) paints a grim picture: 43 lives lost, over 150 injuries, and numerous evacuations and shelter-in-place advisories since January 2021.

The report traces the majority of these incidents to the fossil fuel industry’s lifecycle, encompassing not just extraction and transportation but also the production and disposal of petrochemicals. Notable incidents include the East Palestine train derailment in Ohio and fires at oil refineries, such as last year’s fatal BP facility fire.

A concerning trend is the number of incidents in Texas, the highest in the nation. This is followed by California, Louisiana, Illinois, and Ohio, highlighting a nationwide challenge.

In response, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced plans to update its Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. However, the analysis reveals that a significant number of incidents occurred at facilities regulated by this very program, raising questions about the efficacy of current regulations.

The EPA has confirmed its efforts towards a final rule by December, aiming to reduce chemical release frequency and its adverse effects. Michele Roberts of EJHA urges the EPA to adopt and enforce safer chemical and process standards, especially given the disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income areas.

The recent fire at the Sound Resource Solutions plant in Texas, which resulted in one injury, is a stark reminder of the ongoing risks. As investigations continue, the focus intensifies on the need for stronger federal regulations to prevent future chemical disasters and protect vulnerable communities.

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