EPA Proposes Stronger Regulations to Protect Communities from Chemical Accidents

August 29, 2022
The EPA recently proposed revisions to the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule to further protect vulnerable communities from chemical accidents, especially those living near facilities with high accident rates. The proposed rule, entitled the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule,” would strengthen the existing program and includes new safeguards that have not been addressed in prior RMP rules, such as enhanced employee participation and transparency for communities on safety decisions.
“Protecting public health is central to EPA's mission, particularly as we adapt to the challenges of climate change, and the proposal announced today advances this effort, especially for those in vulnerable communities,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This rule will better protect communities from chemical accidents, and advance environmental justice for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by these facilities.” 
The Agency’s RMP rule protects public health and the environment by requiring industrial facilities with high accident rates to prevent accidental air releases of dangerous chemicals that could cause deaths, injuries, property and environmental damage, or require evacuations in surrounding communities. This rule is critical piece of EPA’s work to advance environmental justice as these facilities are often located in communities that have historically borne a disproportionate burden from pollution.
EPA is proposing amendments that will foster safer communities by reducing the frequency of accidental chemical releases and their adverse effects. EPA is proposing to strengthen RMP regulations that will require some facilities to do more to prevent chemical accidents, particularly types of facilities that have the most frequent or severe accidents. Changes made to the RMP rule in 2019 were identified as an action for review under President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”
Highlights of the proposed rule include:
  • Providing greater protections for communities living near RMP facilities, many of which are underserved and overburdened by pollution
  • Emphasizing the requirement for regulated facilities to evaluate risks of natural hazards and climate change, including any associated loss of power
  • Promoting environmental justice through increased availability of information for fenceline communities in their requested language
  • Requiring safer technologies and alternatives analysis for certain facilities with high accident rates
  • Advancing greater employee participation and opportunity for decision-making in facility accident prevention requirements
  • Requiring third party audits for facilities with a bad track record of accidents
  • Enhancing facility planning and preparedness efforts
EPA will engage stakeholders involved in this rulemaking during a robust public comment period. The public may comment on the proposed rule at www.regulations.gov (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2022-0174) until 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA is also holding three virtual public hearings on the proposed rule on September 26, 27, and 28, 2022.
New Toxicological Profile Published for Ethylene Oxide
A new final toxicological profile for ethylene oxide (EtO) is available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. According to ATSDR, EtO is a flammable gas used to make the chemical ethylene glycol, which in turn is used to make antifreeze and polyester. EtO is also used to sterilize food products as well as medical equipment and supplies in hospitals or sterilization facilities. Workers who perform routine sterilization of equipment in hospitals or other workplaces may be exposed to relatively high levels of EtO, and those who work where EtO is made or used are also at risk of exposure via inhalation or contact with the skin. Individuals who live near industrial facilities that release EtO may be exposed to higher levels of the gas than those who live elsewhere.
ATSDR warns that workers exposed to high levels of EtO in air for short time periods reported lung irritation. Those exposed to high concentrations for both short and long periods reported effects including headaches, memory loss, numbness, nausea, and vomiting. OSHA’s safety and health topic page on EtO echoes ATSDR’s conclusions. According to OSHA, acute exposures to EtO gas may also result in lung injury, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis, a condition characterized by bluish discoloration of the skin, usually due to deficient oxygenation of the blood.
“Chronic exposure [to EtO] has been associated with the occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization,” OSHA’s website explains.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program, which prepares the Report on Carcinogens, has determined that EtO is known to be a human carcinogen (PDF). EPA also considers EtO to be a human carcinogen based on “scientific evidence in humans [that] indicates that exposure to EtO for many years increases the risk of cancers of the white blood cells” as well as increased risk of breast cancer in women.
ATSDR toxicological profiles characterize the toxicology and adverse health effects information for hazardous substances. The new toxicological profile for EtO can be found on the agency’s website along with the published profiles of other toxic substances.
IARC: Firefighters' Occupational Exposures Cause Cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in July announced the classification of occupational exposure as a firefighter as a Group 1 carcinogen, the agency’s designation for agents that carry sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. A working group of 25 international experts convened by IARC concluded that there is sufficient evidence for mesothelioma and bladder cancer associated with firefighters’ occupational exposures. The group also noted limited evidence for firefighting’s association with colon cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, melanoma of the skin, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Firefighters face a variety of occupational exposures, including combustion products from fires like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, metals, and particulates; diesel exhaust; and building materials such as asbestos. Other hazards can include heat stress, shift work, and ultraviolet and other radiation. Exposure to flame retardants in textiles and chemicals in firefighting foams, including synthetic chemicals like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), is also of concern.
When IARC previously assessed the carcinogenicity of firefighting in 2007, the agency classified it in Group 2B as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Since then, new studies examining the association between occupational exposures among firefighters and cancer risk in people have been conducted. IARC’s new evaluation of firefighting considers 52 cohort and case-control studies, 12 case reports, and seven meta-analyses. According to the agency, some of the most informative research included more than 30 non-overlapping cohort studies that followed firefighters for cancer over time in Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania.
A summary of IARC’s evaluation is available online in The Lancet Oncology. The full article is available free of charge to registered users (registration is also free). Further details are available in an IARC press release (PDF).
IARC’s detailed assessment of the carcinogenicity of firefighting will be published next year in Volume 132 of the IARC Monographs. IARC monographs identify and evaluate substances or agents that can increase carcinogenic risks to humans. IARC is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization.
EPA Ordered to Review Pollution Limits for Manufacturing Facilities’ Cancer-Causing Emissions
A federal court recently issued a consent decree ordering the EPA to determine whether to update pollution limits for Group I Polymers and Resins facilities. These types of facilities manufacture synthetic rubber used to make products like wetsuits, gaskets and seals, hoses and tubing, plumbing fixtures, as well as adhesives. In the process, facilities emit hazardous air pollutants such as ethylene oxide and chloroprene, which can cause cancer if people are exposed.
“Fenceline communities live daily with the health consequences of toxic air pollution from Group I Polymers and Resins facilities, including extraordinarily high cancer risk,” said Deena Tumeh, Earthjustice attorney. “Strengthening pollution limits is essential to protecting public health. We expect EPA to live up to its promise to advance environmental justice and issue the strongest possible health-protective rule.”
The recent decision is an encouraging sign and stems from a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Concerned Citizens of St. John, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Sierra Club in November of 2021. A federal court in Washington, D.C. entered on Wednesday the consent decree requiring EPA to perform the overdue rulemaking. This consent decree also resolves some claims from a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project and other environmental groups concerning EPA’s air toxics standards these facilities and the need to strengthen flaring requirements. Now, EPA must propose a rule with potentially updated pollution limits by March of 2023, and a final rule by March of 2024.
“For too long, St. John has been failed by every layer of government — starting with our state’s environmental agency, to our governor, to our Congressional representatives, all the way up to several Presidential administrations,” said Robert Taylor, who lives in St. John and is a member of Concerned Citizens of St. John. “EPA must act now and protect this community facing a dire health emergency and the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation. EPA must also advance the core goals of environmental justice to which it has recommitted itself under the leadership of President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan.”
Many of these facilities are close to communities that are disproportionately Black, Latino, and low-income, primarily in Louisiana and Texas. In Cancer Alley, which is located alongside the Mississippi River in Louisiana, there is a neoprene facility that emits dangerous quantities of chloroprene. As a result, surrounding communities suffer the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation, according to EPA’s 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment. Chloroprene can also damage the nervous and cardiovascular systems and hepatic and renal function.
“Chloroprene and ethylene oxide released by industrial facilities severely negatively impact the health of community members in St. John the Baptist Parish and nearby parishes,” said Wilma Subra from Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review and revise its emission standards “as necessary” at least every eight years, but EPA has not done so for these manufacturing facilities in over a decade. In that time, EPA scientists concluded that the cancer risk from ethylene oxide and chloroprene is far more severe than previously thought, leaving many communities vulnerable to serious, irreversible health problems. Citing these conclusions, EPA’s Office of Inspector General urged the agency to review and update the health risk and technology-based standards for industrial plants that emit ethylene oxide or chloroprene.
Communities demand EPA set limits on chloroprene that fully protect the health of communities and follow the well-established science, include fenceline monitoring and enforcement. The agency must also remove loopholes that allow industry to circumvent pollution limits during malfunctions.
Company Operating Aluminum Processing Facility Charged with Clean Air Act Violations
An Illinois-based company that operates an aluminum processing facility in The Dalles, Oregon has been charged with violating the Clean Air Act by negligently releasing a hazardous air pollutant from its facility, endangering employees and nearby community members.
Hydro Extrusion USA (Hydro), a limited liability corporation based in Rosemont, Illinois, has been charged by criminal information with negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act.
“Enforcing emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants is critical to protecting the air we breathe and ensuring companies play by the rules,” said Ethan Knight, Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We will vigorously prosecute any company that risks the health and safety of its workers or our communities.”
“Our nation’s environmental laws are designed to protect our communities from hazardous pollutants,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of the EPA’s criminal investigation program in Oregon. “The criminal charge filed in this case demonstrates that companies that negligently violate those laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”
According to court documents, Hydro operates a secondary aluminum processing facility in The Dalles where it melts aluminum scrap in induction furnaces to produce reusable aluminum billets. While operating, air emissions from the company’s furnaces were open to the interior of the building and did not pass through any pollution control devices before reaching employees or being vented to ambient air.
Under the Clean Air Act, secondary aluminum production facilities are only permitted to use “clean charge,” aluminum scrap free of paints, coatings or lubricants. Despite this requirement, from July 2018 through June 2019, Hydro acquired and melted scrap aluminum coated in a mineral-oil based mixture that, when combusted, produced hazardous smoke. During this time, Hydro employees noticed excessive smoke in the facility. Despite being notified by inspectors from EPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (Oregon DEQ), Hydro continued melting the unclean charge.
Hydro has fully cooperated with the government’s investigation of this matter and agreed to plead guilty.
Roofing Contractor Fined $1.3M After Second Employee Suffers Fatal Fall in 3 Years
A Nanuet roofing and siding contractor with a significant history of safety violations and penalties now faces an additional $1,343,363 in penalties after OSHA investigated another fatal fall by a company employee, the second in three years.
OSHA opened an inspection of ALJ Home Improvement, Inc. on Feb. 8, 2022, when a worker fell from the roof of a three-story residential construction project in Spring Valley. In February 2019, another company employee died in a fall at a Kiamesha Lake work site. 
The agency determined that ALJ failed to provide fall protection training or ensure effective fall protection safeguards were used. They also failed to provide eye protection for employees using pneumatic nail guns, exposing them to the risk of serious eye injuries.
The employer's knowledge of fall and eye protection requirements, and its deliberate and recurring violations of these standards, led OSHA to issue egregious citations for each instance an employee at the Spring Valley site was exposed to the hazards. In total, ALJ Home Improvement was cited for nine willful and three serious violations.
Since 2019, OSHA has inspected ALJ Home Improvement six times, issuing 21 violations and levying $299,425 in fines. Its infractions include multiple willful fall protection and eye protection violations, cited most recently in November 2021.
“ALJ Home Improvement continues to ignore the law and callously exposes its employees to falls from elevation, the construction industry's deadliest hazard,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York. “Their repeated willful violations are evidence of an indefensible and inexcusable pattern of disregard for the safety of their employees. OSHA will continue to take strong enforcement actions against such employers.”
Falls are the leading cause of death in construction work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 351 of the 1,008 construction workers who died on the job in 2020 were victims of falls from elevations. Fall-related injuries and fatalities can be prevented through knowledge and training. Visit OSHA's website for information on fall protection in residential construction and the agency's fall prevention campaign.
Ohio Contractor Continues 11-Year History of Exposing Roofers to Deadly Fall Hazards
A Dundee contractor with a long history of federal workplace safety violations has added an additional $228,126 in fines to $108,318 in unpaid penalties with OSHA for again exposing workers to potential deadly fall hazards, this time at an Akron job site.
OSHA inspectors observed two employees of Benny Troyer Roofing and Trail Roofing, LLC working at heights of up to 20 feet above the ground without adequate fall protection while Troyer was on-site at an Akron home under construction. Inspectors also found the employer allowed workers to use ladders improperly and failed to enforce the use of head, face and eye protection. The inspection on Feb. 28, 2022, identified one repeat safety violation, two willful violations and one serious violation.
The agency cited Benny Troyer Roofing and Trail Roofing, LLC for similar violations in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021. More than $108,318 in unpaid federal penalties have been referred for debt collection.
“These concerns are not new for this company. OSHA has explained abatement and safety procedures to Mr. Troyer repeatedly, but he continues to defy federal inspectors and gamble with workers’ lives,” said OSHA Area Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland. “No other cause kills more construction industry workers than falls from elevation. OSHA will hold this employer and others accountable for failing to provide safe working conditions.”
OSHA’s stop falls website offers safety information and video presentations in English and Spanish to teach workers about hazards and proper safety procedures. Learn more about OSHA’s annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls.
EPA Settles Alleged Clean Air Act Violations with Sivyer Steel Castings, LLC
The EPA has reached a settlement with Sivyer Steel Castings, LLC in Bettendorf, Iowa, to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA).
“Sivyer Steel Castings is located in a community that is disproportionately affected by air pollution,” said David Cozad, director of EPA Region 7’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “This settlement represents EPA’s and the Biden administration’s commitment to protecting all communities, especially those overburdened by environmental harm.”
According to EPA, the iron and steel foundry learned in 2019 that a detection system for identifying releases of potentially harmful air pollutants was broken and the facility failed to address the problem.
As part of the settlement, Sivyer Steel Castings has agreed to fix the leak detection system and to submit monthly reports to EPA demonstrating the system’s proper operation and integrity, as well as demonstrating the facility’s ongoing compliance with CAA regulations.
EPA said that without the functioning leak detection system, Sivyer Steel Castings is unaware of whether pollutant filters are operating effectively to reduce emissions of particulate matter and certain hazardous air pollutants. Further, the facility is in a community identified by EPA as one that is already particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution.
Learn more about EPA’s Air Enforcement Program. Learn more about EPA’s environmental justice efforts.
Smith Frozen Foods To Pay $100,000 Penalty for Clean Air Act Violations
The EPA recently announced that Smith Frozen Foods, Inc. of Weston, Oregon has agreed to pay a $100,000 penalty for Clean Air Act violations.
During inspections conducted in 2016, EPA found that the company failed to maintain and implement its required Risk Management Plan when using and storing anhydrous ammonia. This chemical can lead to serious lung damage and even death when not handled safely. Risk Management Plans can save lives by helping prevent, prepare for, and respond to an accidental release of this chemical.
“Facilities that use hazardous materials like anhydrous ammonia have an obligation to follow regulations designed to protect our communities and environment from potentially catastrophic consequences of accidents,” said Ed Kowalski, director of EPA Region Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “Failure to comply with the law puts first responders and members of the surrounding community in harm’s way.”
The company violated the following provisions of the Clean Air Act which establishes requirements for facilities that store threshold amounts of dangerous chemicals:
  • Safety Information Requirements
  • Hazard Analysis Requirements
  • Operating Procedure Requirements
  • Training Requirements
  • Mechanical Integrity Requirements
  • Employee Participation Requirements
  • Contractor Requirements
Details of the violations EPA documented at Smith Frozen Foods, Inc and steps the company will take to come into compliance can be found in the Administrative Compliance Order on Consent and Consent Agreement and Final Order.
Wind Turbine Blades Could Someday Be Recycled into Sweet Treats
Wind power is an increasingly popular form of renewable energy. However, when it’s time to replace the huge turbine blades that convert wind into electricity, disposal is a problem. Now, scientists report a new composite resin suitable for making these behemoths that could later be recycled into new turbine blades or a variety of other products, including countertops, car taillights, diapers and even gummy bears.
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop,” says John Dorgan, Ph.D., who is presenting the work at the meeting. “That’s the goal of the circular economy.”
Made of fiberglass, wind turbine blades can be half a football field in length. Although some companies have found ways to recycle fiberglass into lower-value materials, most discarded blades end up in landfills. And the disposal problem is likely to get worse. “Larger wind turbine blades are more efficient, so companies keep making bigger and bigger ones,” Dorgan says. “Often, wind farms will actually replace the turbine blades before the end of service life because the farms can generate more electricity with bigger blades.”
Dorgan and colleagues at Michigan State University made a new turbine material by combining glass fibers with a plant-derived polymer and a synthetic one. Panels made of this thermoplastic resin were strong and durable enough to be used in turbines or automobiles. The researchers dissolved the panels in fresh monomer and physically removed the glass fibers, allowing them to recast the material into new products of the same type. Importantly, the recast panels had the same physical properties as their predecessors.
In addition to new wind turbine blades, the novel resin could be used for a variety of other applications. By mixing the resin with different minerals, the team produced cultured stone that could be transformed into household objects, such as countertops and sinks. “We’ve recently made a bathroom sink with the cultured stone, so we know it works,” says Dorgan. The researchers could also crush the recovered material and mix it with other plastic resins for injection molding, which is used to make items like laptop covers and power tools.
The material could even be upcycled into higher-value products. Digesting the thermoplastic resin in an alkaline solution released poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), a common acrylic material for windows, car taillights and many other items. Raising the temperature of the digestion converted PMMA into poly(methacrylic acid), a super-absorbent polymer that is used in diapers. The alkaline digestion also produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into candy and sports drinks. “We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” Dorgan says.
Now that the researchers have demonstrated that the resin has suitable physical properties for wind turbines, they hope to make some moderately sized blades for field testing. “The current limitation is that there’s not enough of the bioplastic that we’re using to satisfy this market, so there needs to be considerable production volume brought online if we’re going to actually start making wind turbines out of these materials,” Dorgan notes.
And is there a “yuck factor” involved in eating candy that was once part of a wind turbine? Dorgan doesn’t think so. “A carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel,” he says. “It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”
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