More than 100 million Americans live, work, or go to school within “vulnerability zones” near 12,000 high-risk chemical facilities, and most don’t even know it. Thousands of schools, nursing homes, and medical facilities also sit in these danger zones. The communities closest to these facilities are disproportionately people of color and low-income, and are often exposed to multiple health hazards and risks. Many of these facilities are at risk of flooding or extreme weather events like hurricanes, risks that are worsening due to climate change.
Our coalition has worked for ten years to support policies that can help prevent catastrophic chemical fires and explosions, which occur constantly across the US. In just one decade, there were over 1,500 reported chemical releases or explosions at these facilities, causing over $2 billion in property damage; evacuation or “shelter in place” of half a million people; and 17,099 injuries and 58 deaths.
The Biden-Harris administration now has an opportunity to prioritize the safety of the workers and communities most endangered by chemical facility incidents. Leadership now would be consistent with President Biden’s record of commitment to policies for the prevention of chemical disasters, as reflected in then Senator Biden’s testimony before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on June 21, 2006, as shown in this video.
Central to that testimony was the need for hazardous facilities to evaluate safer available technologies best suited to eliminate catastrophic hazards, and to implement them when feasible. Many safer chemicals and safer processes are already widely used, many facilities have reported minimal expense in implementing them, and some have realized cost savings and greatly reduced liability.
Senator Biden and Senator Obama were leaders on this issue in the Senate. Together they championed these policies in multiple bills. In 2013, the Obama-Biden administration directed the EPA to develop new safety rules, with modest policy improvements being adopted at the very end of the administration which were then overturned by the Trump administration. Now, the Biden-Harris administration can ensure that new measures finally establish the policies needed to protect communities and workers.