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Texas Experts: Chemical Disaster Rule Rollbacks Would Endanger Workers, First Responders, Local Communities

Note: Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting an all-day hearing on the proposed repeal of the 2017 amendments to the chemical disaster rule. The rollbacks would rescind requirements to conduct third-party audits following catastrophic incidents, investigate incidents to determine their root causes, implement safer technologies and provide information to the public on chemical hazards. Public Citizen’s Houston-based organizer and researcher, Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., testified against the rollbacks. Separately, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña is speaking out against them (see his statement below).

“The chemical disaster rule rollbacks, if implemented, would harm workers, first responders and Texas residents – and it is shocking that no hearings will be held in the communities most affected. According to the EPA’s own analysis, the proposed rollbacks disproportionately would harm low-income and minority communities, and the rule needed to be strengthened to better protect these communities. Instead, the proposed rollbacks would line the chemical industry’s pockets with an $88 million-a-year handout whose costs will be borne by families hurt by toxic chemical releases.

“It’s no accident that these rollbacks are being proposed at a time when industry’s foxes – lobbyists for the petrochemical and refining industries – have taken over the proverbial henhouse. The EPA should be supporting the health and well-being of Texas communities, not padding the profits of corporate polluters.

“We need to remember the lessons of Hurricane Harvey and recall its devastating chemical impacts along the Gulf Coast – most notably the explosion at the Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas. Floodwaters caused the backup generator to fail, leading to explosions of unstable organic peroxides and the release of a stew of toxic chemicals, including an unpermitted release of cancer-causing ethylbenzene. Had the 2017 chemical disaster rule been in place, first responders and area residents would have had access to safety data providing instructions for protecting themselves against the harmful chemicals released into the air and water.”

– Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., organizer and researcher, Public Citizen’s Texas office

“The proposed changes to the federal chemical disaster rule are unreasonable, illogical and in the opposite direction of where we need to go, especially after the Arkema chemical plant incident during Hurricane Harvey. Limiting information to the public will have an enormous effect in diminishing public safety. Emergency response agencies and community residents have a right to know where dangerous and potentially hazardous materials exist. It is critical to have this information in making proper operational decisions during an emergency incident or event. Without the information, it is difficult to assess public health risks or discover what went wrong after a disaster.”

– Samuel Peña, fire chief, Houston Fire Department