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Posts Tagged ‘safety’

Last week, I, Stephanie Thomas, Houston Organizer for Public Citizen, joined members of community and environmental groups testifying in opposition to Polluting Pruitt’s proposed rollbacks of the 2017 Chemical Disaster Rule.

The Chemical Disaster Rule helps better protect workers, first responders, and fenceline communities. So what exactly is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gutting?…

Almost all of the disaster prevention measures in the Chemical Disaster Rule.

What’s Being Lost

The repeals mean that industry will no longer be required to invest in third party audits when accidents happen nor will facilities need to conduct a root cause analysis as part of incident investigations following incidents with a catastrophic release or a near miss.

The EPA is merely putting out fires, not working to prevent the fires, explosions, and deaths from happening in the first place.

Safer technologies? The EPA proposal rescinds requirements for certain facilities to complete safer technology and alternatives analyses to minimize the amount of hazardous substances used. Also, they are rolling back demands to use less hazardous substances, incorporate safer designs, and minimize the impact of releases. This seems like a a no-brainer, but unfortunately, these rollbacks toss safer technology out the window.

Even first responders will be losing out. The proposed changes remove a requirement to provide, upon request, information to the public on chemical hazards, including substance names, safety data sheets, accident history, emergency response program information, and LEPC contact information (Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) must develop an emergency response plan, review the plan at least annually, and provide information about chemicals in the community to citizens).

Let us remember Hurricane Harvey and 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 slew of toxic chemicals, including an unpermitted release of cancer-causing ethylbenzene. Had the 2017 chemical disaster rule been in place, first responders and community members would have had access to safety data sheets providing information for protecting themselves against the harmful chemicals released into the air and water; and would not have had to file lawsuits such as the one filed in Harris County by first responders alleging Arkema failed to take adequate safety steps to secure dangerous chemicals ahead of Hurricane Harvey.

Known Impact to Communities

By the EPA’s own account, more than 150 chemical incidents occur each year. And the agency knows that repealing these rules will hurt minority, low-income communities the most. 

Who benefits? The chemical industry – and all for a measly $88 million per year, a drop in the bucket for these big corporations.  

The EPA only provided one opportunity to testify on the rollbacks to the Chemical Disaster Rule. While I was glad to be able to testify there, that’s not good enough. Because this proposal knowingly harms communities, impacted communities need a seat at the table.

While the EPA leaves out environmental justice communities, industry interests are well-represented within the agency. Several administrators and counselors for the EPA have served as lobbyists and litigators for industry. Just yesterday, the US Senate held a confirmation hearing for DowDupont lawyer Peter Wright, who will likely be leading the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, which oversees the Risk Management Program.

It’s no accident that these rollbacks are being proposed at a time when industry’s foxes have taken over the henhouse. The EPA should be supporting the health and wellbeing of Texas communities, not padding the profits of corporate polluters.

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IMG_1653Around 10:10 AM on Sunday July 17th, a pipeline leaked propylene in the community of Baytown, TX, near the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. Propylene is a dense, colorless gas that is considered non-toxic but flammable. The pipeline leak highlights some of the challenges associated with emergency response along within the Houston region.

At 10:30 AM, according to the Houston Chronicle, three houses were evacuated and all others within the vicinity of the leak were told to shelter in place. The emergency response was mixed. Residents who signed up for city notifications through Baytown Alert were apparently notified by phone and by email around 10:30 AM about the order to shelter-in-place. Yet some confusion remained – who exactly did the shelter-in-place include? What had happened, and what kind of chemical was released – something flammable or something toxic? Should residents downwind be concerned?

The CAER line, which is supported by the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provides a hotline for Harris County residents to call to obtain more information regarding emergency situations. During the incident on Sunday, several people known to us called CAER to hear the messages it posted regarding the situation. It is unclear how quickly the first message regarding the incident was posted to CAER; a Baytown resident stated that it took about an hour following the incident before CAER posted a message. On Sunday at 1:05 PM, there were no current messages, even though the shelter-in-place had not yet been lifted. At 2:30 PM, CAER’s message stated that a propylene leaked resulted in the shelter-in-place warning. The City of Baytown reported via twitter that the shelter-in-place had been lifted at 2:38 PM. At 3:30 PM, CAER’s message line mentioned the leak without any mention of a shelter-in-place. Around 4:20 PM there were no current messages on the CAER line.

Although the City of Baytown notified residents of the shelter-in-place, the residents we spoke with never received the all clear and were not informed when the shelter-in-place had been lifted either via siren or via email and phone. In fact, it is unclear if sirens were used to communicate the shelter-in-place, which is an important way to inform people who may be visiting the area or who may not have access to other technology. Many questions remain unanswered and the Healthy Ports Community Coalition (HPCC) is actively researching to fully understand the emergency response.

The HPCC is also proposing a system like an amber alert system to make use of our modern technology so that residents can be informed immediately when emergency evacuations or a shelter-in-place is called for, notified when it is all clear to return to normal, and they can be instructed specifically on what steps to take to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. In this case, Baytown residents were lucky that the chemical leaked was not deemed toxic and that no one suffered any known health impacts from the leak. HPCC is working to keep residents safe and informed for when the next incident happens.

hpcc

 

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is growing a strong base of well-informed and active local residents who engage public and private stakeholders directly on priority issues including jobs, pollution, health, neighborhood safety, and economic opportunities.

 

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2014-03-19 More and more water bottle companies are voluntarily removing BPA, but not other chemicals like BPS - treehugger.comBisphenol A. In an age of ever-growing consumer awareness and savy, many of us are familiar with this chemical, better known as BPA. We look for the phrase “BPA Free” on our water bottles, Tupperware containers and children’s sippy cups in the hopes we’re protected from negative health effects. Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that this is not the case.

Despite the fact that Bisphenol A has been around for over a hundred years, it was only a few years ago in the late ‘00s that much of the danger around the endocrine-disrupting chemical came to light, ultimately leading to the FDA banning its use in baby bottles in July 2012. Despite this ban, which many would see as a confession of the chemical’s danger, the FDA maintains that BPA is still safe in small doses – it’s in everything from canned food to thermal receipt paper.

For those not as familiar, BPA is recognized as an endocrine-disrupting chemical – while in the human body it mimics estrogen. Although estrogen is produced naturally in both men and women, ingesting synthetic hormones can have drastic effects on the human body. BPA has been linked to a host of diseases and ailments, particularly breast cancer and hyperactivity. This is especially notable since recent estimates say that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 1 in 5 high school-age boys in the US will receive an ADHD diagnosis.

While independent studies have found BPA to be highly dangerous in lower doses with “More than 95 percent of people in developed countries… exposed to levels of BPA that are “within the range” associated with health problems in animals, from cancer and insulin-resistant diabetes to early puberty”, the government is arguing that the chemical is still safe to use in small amounts. There are, however groups saying that the government study is flawed, mostly due to the fact that the control group in the study ended up being compromised.

Even if you limit your plastic use to only BPA-Free plastics, studies suggest you might not be as safe as you may think. A report published by Environmental Health Perspectives authored by a professor at University of Texas at Austin notes that “almost all” commercially available plastics tested contained “estrogenic activity” – the thing about BPA that makes it so dangerous. In the wake of all the attention around BPA, lots of tests have been done to test the potential health implications of other types of widely accepted plastics. A field guide to help decipher these plastics and the estrogenic activity of the chemicals in them can be found here.

One of the most concerning things about this plastics debate is the degree to which the chemical and plastic companies are subverting and ‘spinning’ information in an attempt to avoid regulation. As Public Citizen continues to push people before profits, it’s still important to try and do research on items you bring into your home whenever you can. When in doubt, avoid plastic if you can and opt for glass or metal containers or bottles.

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Statement of Keith Wrightson, Worker Safety and Health Advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

The West Fertilizer Company facility that exploded in a deadly blast Wednesday evening had not been inspected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in at least 10 years. While we leave it to investigators to determine what exactly happened, we already know that this facility and ones like it operate with very little oversight, and that this is a problem.

Plant Explosion Texas

A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013 (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth/The Dallas Morning News)

Records show that the facility in West, Texas, owned by Adair Grain Incorporated, has not been inspected by OSHA in the past 10 years.

In the past five years, only two Texas facilities in the same classification – that produce fertilizer using ammonia – have been inspected by OSHA, records show. The agency, with a budget of roughly $568 million, lacks the resources to regularly inspect these types of facilities, including the many with high danger levels. Often facilities do not see an inspector for decades at a time.

While OSHA’s budget had increased slightly in the past several years, it was recently reduced yet again by budget , which means fewer inspectors to monitor facilities like the West Fertilizer Company. Small budgets also make it even harder for the agency to issue new safety standards. The agency’s budget is similar to what it was several decades ago, but the size of the economy – and the number and complexity of workplaces to inspect – has grown tremendously.

Though total occupational deaths are far lower today than they were decades ago, more than 4,000 workers still die every year on the job in the United States, most in incidents that could have been prevented. Last night’s tragic explosion in Texas is a reminder of the work still ahead to make our nation’s workplaces safer.

Devoting only a miniscule portion of our budget to protecting workers is a policy choice – and it’s the wrong one.

Contact: Ben Somberg (202) 588-7742 or Keith Wrightson (202) 454-5139

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If you live in the Houston area, you may be in the danger zone of a toxic chemical facility, and oil and chemical industry executives are trying to keep it that way. These toxic chemical facilities are vulnerable to accidents or terrorist attacks, even though safer alternatives are available. Now Congress is considering industry-backed legislation (HR 908) that would deny the Department of Homeland Security authority they have requested to require high risk facilities to prevent chemical disasters by using safer, available alternatives.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee could be voting on this within days, and your representative, Congressman Gene Green, is a critical vote.

Call Congressman Green’s office today and ask him to VOTE AGAINST HR 908. (202) 225-9903

If you can eliminate the risk of chemical disaster or the consequences of a terrorist attack, you should, right? Well if Congress passes this legislation, that common sense thinking will be held hostage for up to seven years.

This legislation also contains huge loopholes. It would exempt 500 port facilities including 125 refineries, as well as 2,400 water and waste-water treatment facilities. These facilities put millions of people at risk and will not be covered if this bill is passed.

Disaster prevention should be the heart of any chemical plant security legislation. A comprehensive approach should be taken that closes the current loopholes, requires the highest risk facilities to switch to safer alternatives, and gives workers and communities the ability to hold these facilities accountable.

An independent analysis of comprehensive legislation passed in 2009 showed that the bill would create jobs and provide a stimulus for local governments.

Congress should stop wasting its time and risking our lives with seven more years of delay, and should focus on constructing a comprehensive approach that focuses on preventing chemical disasters in Houston, and around the Country.

Call Congressman Green’s office today and ask him to VOTE AGAINST HR 908. (202) 225-9903

After you call his office, send him an email through our main website.

Not sure if you’re in Congressman Green’s district (district 29)? Check out the map. Still call even if you aren’t in his district. Though voices of his constituents are the most effective, anyone living in Houston should be concerned with this issue and you have every right to let him know your concerns.

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NORTH CENTRAL TEXAS COMMUNITIES ALLIANCE

March Meeting: Gas Drilling 101

General Meeting Information:

When: Thursday, March 11, 2010
6:30 pm – Doors Open – Coffee & Networking
7:00 – 8:45 pm: NCTCA Meeting
Where: Hotel Trinity – Inn Suites I-30 @ Beach Street
(east of downtown Ft. Worth)

You asked for it, we listened! We’ll have a panel of knowledgeable, experienced, community leaders who have been involved in promoting measures to protect our health, safety, and property rights!

Whether you’re a real novice at this subject of gas drilling or have had your fair share of public meetings about it, get ready to learn the most current information & the truth without the industry “slant!”

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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AUSTIN – Public Citizen Texas will be honoring the recipients of this year’s Texas Outstanding Public Service (TOPS) Awards at the organization’s 25th anniversary dinner today. The awardees are local visionaries, recognized experts and celebrated advocates who have aided in the effort to help Texas realize a more environmentally conscious and sustainable energy future.

Those receiving the TOPS Awards were chosen by Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, and his staff based on their accomplishments and contributions to the overall health, safety and democracy of all Texans. This year’s lineup of winners includes two journalists, three legislators, two activists, a whistleblower, a legislative aid and a man whose lifetime of achievement merits the finest award of all.

Winners of this year’s awards include Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy, Austin American-Statesman reporter Claudia Grisales, San Antonio Current reporter Greg Harman, state Reps. Dave Swinford and Rafael Anchia, citizen activists Gerry Sansing and Dr. Wes Stafford, state Sen. Wendy Davis, whistleblower Glenn Lewis and state legislative staffer Doug Lewin.

Duncan will receive this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Duncan is a true visionary who has not only blueprinted the greening of the Austin City Council but also of the city’s public utility. He successfully transformed Austin Energy and set standards for the rest of the nation. He has been a major player in the fight for green issues for more than three decades – starting with his journey as a student activist in the 1970s, serving two terms as a member of the Austin City Council in the 1980s and eventually leading the city’s environmental department for nine years as the assistant director. Duncan is considered the architect of several of Austin’s nationally acclaimed energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including GreenChoice and the Green Building Program. Furthermore, under Duncan’s leadership, Austin Energy adopted ambitious goals to bring more solar energy to Austin, committing to the development of major solar generating capacity. Duncan was also one of a few people to realize early on that the city of Austin had the potential to reduce urban air pollution by using plug-in hybrids. He assembled a coalition of potential buyers of plug-ins in the country and implemented a program at Austin Energy that offered an incentive package for such hybrids. Although he has announced his planned retirement for next year, it will not be surprising to see him in some sort of leadership role in the city in the near future.

In a quote from Duncan published in the Austin Chronicle last month, he said, “Today, it is time for me to return to my original role as an involved citizen of Austin.” Public Citizen Texas welcomes him as such (more…)

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UPDATE: Safety panel hearing in the news: at the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News

Citizen opposition to two proposed nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project continues with another success. On August 27th the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) Panel found that the nuclear applicant, South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC), had failed to adequately analyze issues raised by concerned citizens in their Petition to Intervene in the proposed expansion at STP.

“This is a major victory for those living in the South Texas Project region and throughout Texas,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the SEED Coalition. “The decision recognizes that the South Texas Project reactor application is still inadequate, two years after it was submitted. We now have a case against the reactors that will move forward.”

SEED Coalition, Public Citizen and the Bay City based South Texas Association for Responsible Energy (STARE) are Intervenors in the case. Attorney Robert V. Eye went before the ASLB Panel in June and argued the admissibility of 28 contentions challenging the license application for two additional reactors, Units 3 and 4, at the South Texas Project. The ASLB Panel has ruled on 19 of the 28 contentions submitted and found that one of the contentions deserved further inquiry, giving Intervenors a case against the reactors. It is not known when a decision will be made on the remaining contentions.

“South Texas Project’s reactor application is seriously flawed.” said Mr. Eye. “They failed to analyze how a severe radiological accident or a major fire or explosion at any of the four units would impact the other remaining units at the site. This is a major omission and the issue should have been considered by STP.” The contention reads:

Contention 21 – Impacts from severe radiological accident scenarios on the operation of other units at the STP site have not been considered in the Environmental Report.

“A radiological accident at one unit could cause impacts and disruptions in operations at the other units,” said one of the Intervenors, Bill Wagner, a former STP Operations Supervisor. “How would operations at undamaged units continue in the event that the entire site becomes seriously contaminated? STP needs to address this.”

Water Issues Are Yet to be Decided

The ASLB panel delayed a decision on all nine of the Intervenors’ contentions that deal with water issues. The issues yet to be ruled on include: the build-up of radioactive particulate in STP’s Main Cooling Reservoir (MCR), increasing levels of groundwater tritium, the vulnerability of the MCR to flooding, insufficient limits on toxic discharges, reliance on dilution to achieve discharge standards, unregulated wastewater discharge, unevaluated reduction in groundwater supply for adjacent landowners, unevaluated reduction in surface water flow, and inadequate supplies of fresh water due to global warming impacts.

“Nuclear plants consume enormous amounts of water and are vulnerable to shutdown during drought and reduced river flows. The two proposed reactors would use over 23,000 gallons of water every minute.This is a real one-two punch. Not only would STP’s operations reduce water supplies for cities like Austin or San Antonio, but the plant might not even be able to operate if the Lower Colorado River has severely reduced flows from drought,” said Hadden. “These problems don’t exist for wind, solar and geothermal sources to generate electricity.”

“The current water shortages in our area are hitting us hard,” said Susan Dancer, a local wildlife rehabilitator and Chair of South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “Livestock suffer since hay and other feedstuffs are in incredibly short supply and there is no grass left. We have personally spent over $5000 this summer having hay trucked in from other areas on semis and have gone deep into debt trying to keep the livestock fed and healthy. Everyone here is in the same situation, so selling off stock is not an option. Prices are at all-time lows due to the large number of producers who are dumping stock at the markets already.”

“Texas is in a Stage 4 drought and has been declared a disaster area. The Texas Department of Agriculture says there are no programs available to assist us,” said Dancer. “Granting more water to industry, especially nuclear reactors that consume vast quantities of water, is not an option. This drought and others to come may be even worse.”

When it comes to water, San Antonio and Central Texas citizens are feeling the pain as well. On Monday, the San Antonio Water System filed suit for breach of contract against the Lower Colorado River Authority for $1.23 billion. The suit claims that the water-sharing project was killed by the river authority to make sure there would be enough water for power plant deals in Matagorda County. At the same time CPS Energy, the San Antonio municipal utility, seeks to be a partner in the proposed nuclear reactors for Matagorda County. Will San Antonio have to decide which matters most, electricity from nuclear reactors or water for drinking?

Large Fires and Explosions that Cause Loss of Coolant and Meltdown

On August 14th, the Intervenors filed seven more contentions regarding STP’s failure to comply with a new NRC fire safety rule which says each licensee must “develop and implement guidance and strategies intended to maintain or restore core cooling, containment, and spent fuel pool cooling capabilities under the circumstances associated with loss of large areas of the plant due to explosions or fire.” The NRC now requires nuclear plants to deal with explosions and fires that would occur from the impact of a large commercial airliner. STP claims that their submittal brings them in accordance with the new NRC rule. Intervenors and their expert argue the opposite in the contentions. However, the Intervenors’ contentions that argue STP has failed to meet the fire and explosion regulatory requirements, STP’s submittal, and related documents are considered classified by the NRC and are not available to the public.

The NRC has also recently adopted regulations that require all applicants for new reactor licenses, including STP, to complete “a design-specific assessment of the effects of the impact of a large, commercial aircraft.” After 9/11 the NRC did its own assessments of aircraft impacts using state-of-the-art techniques and “realistic predictions of accident progression and radiological consequences.” “This regulation recognizes that nuclear plants are vulnerable to air attacks with potentially catastrophic effects,” said Hadden. “Nuclear plants could become weapons if targeted by those who would do us harm.”

The full order can be viewed online at www.NukeFreeTexas.org.

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