Terrorism Qualms Prompt EPA to Alter Risk Management Plan

EPA is citing homeland security concerns as the justification for a proposal that would tighten reporting requirements for companies that must submit risk management plans (RMPs) to federal, state, local emergency response agencies and the public.

In response to a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for better reporting of reactive chemical incidents, EPA is also proposing companies expand the list of causes of chemical releases to include "uncontrolled/runaway reactions." Companies would have to include such incidents in their five-year accident history reports.

While critics charge the Bush administration is fighting legislation that would require companies to adopt inherently safer chemical processes, EPA has responded by proposing a number of new and stricter reporting requirements; security concerns have also led the agency to propose making it harder for the public discover worst-case scenario information.

In addition to the new reactive chemical reporting requirements, EPA is proposing that:

  • Companies update and re-submit their RMP within six months of an accident, instead of waiting up to five years as allowed under current rules;
  • Facilities correct their emergency contact information within one month of a change;
  • Executive summaries of RMPs would no longer have to include brief descriptions of worst-case accidental release scenarios;
  • Companies include e-mail addresses for the emergency contact;
  • Sources identify the purpose of submissions that revise previously submitted RMPs.
  • Companies indicate if they used a contractor to prepare the RMP;
  • Occupational injury and illness data should be added to RMP reporting requirements, including the total incident rate, workdays lost to injuries, and illness and workdays under restricted duties.

The new reporting requirements appear to be related to calls for tougher regulations on the chemical industry. CSB and organized labor have asked that OSHA and EPA regulate reactive chemical hazards, while many Democrats and environmentalists are demanding passage of legislation requiring chemical companies to use inherently safer technology to improve public safety in the event of a terrorist attack.

So far, the administration has resisted calls for tougher regulations, as it pursues a policy that calls for greater attention to assessing the costs and benefits of new rules.

In explaining the proposal to include injury and illness information in RMP reports, EPA stated "with renewed emphasis on quantifying risks and benefits related to chemical accidents, and on the trends covered by existing regulations" the data would allow "an objective analysis" between levels of reporting injuries and accidental releases.

Elsewhere, the EPA proposal explains that fuller and more accurate accident and contact information is important because RMPs "have become a critical source of information for the federal government's homeland security efforts."

The proposed rule in its entirety can be seen on EPS's Web site: yosemite.epa.gov/oswer/CeppoWeb.nsf/content/RecentAdditions.html.

The rule is also in the July 31 Federal Register.

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