President's chemical safety group reports
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June 18, 2014
President's chemical safety group reports

In its first report, which it calls a “milestone, not an endpoint,” the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group assesses federal chemical safety and security programs that have been susceptible to mismanagement, confusion, and problematic statutory authority.

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The Working Group was formed by President Obama in an August 2013 Executive Order in which he subtly suggested that “numerous programs aimed at reducing the safety risks and security risks associated with hazardous chemicals” are not producing the desired results.  Horrific accidents characterized by explosions and fires that take lives, leave others maimed, endanger the public, and damage property continue to occur, although with less frequency than in the past.

The Working Group comprises six federal agencies, with three chairs from the EPA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and OSHA, the agencies that implement the three principal federal programs affecting safety and security at chemical facilities—EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP), DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS); and OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standards. 

Report contents
The main areas addressed in the report are:

  • The ability of state, local, and tribal emergency response bodies to obtain accurate and sufficient information about chemicals and chemical risks, develop emergency response plans, train staff, and communicate effectively with facilities with hazardous chemicals;
  •  The level of coordination among responsible federal agencies;
  • How federal agencies receive, format, and exchange information;
  •  The adequacy of policies and regulations; and
  •  The degree to which stakeholder feedback and best practices are incorporated into the federal programs.

CFATS

Included in the report are more-specific recommendations on improving the RMP, CFATS, and PSM standards.  The CFATS, the newest of the programs, appears most in need of work, according to the Working Group.  Improvements are recommended in two areas: the way CFATS is managed by the DHS and the DHS rules that implement the program.

Regarding management, the Working Group notes that the DHS continues to engage with stakeholders on three core areas: reducing the backlog of site security plan approvals, improving the risk assessment process, and ensuring that all potentially high-risk facilities are identified and meeting their regulatory obligations as required by the CFATS.

The Working Group adds that two high rulemaking priorities for the DHS are development of provisions to expedite the addition of new chemicals (or to otherwise make changes) to the CFATS chemicals of interest (COI) list and adjustments to the relevant screening threshold quantities.

RMP and PSM

Similarly, EPA’s RMP would be strengthened by adding and deleting chemical hazards and adding elements to the prevention and emergency response program.

The PSM standards could be improved by clarifying confusing and misunderstood policies and clarifying the exemption for retail facilities.  Another recommendation is to revise the current interpretation of chemical concentrations covered by the PSM standard to more clearly describe what is covered and align with better established practices. 

IST

The Working Group also addressed the controversial topic of motivating facilities to make more use of inherently safer technologies (IST).  IST refers to risk reduction strategies developed through analysis using a hierarchy of controls, with elimination/reduction, substitution, attenuation, and simplification comprising the most desirable top tier and personal protective equipment occupying the bottom tier.

The EPA and OSHA are currently considering development of IST regulations that would require facilities to include a risk-reduction analysis step in the process hazard analysis (PHA) element already required in the RMP and PSM programs.

Industry response

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said it was encouraged that the Working Group leveraged existing programs developed by industry (e.g., ACC’s Responsible Care® program) into the report. The ACC was less enthusiastic about the IST recommendations made by the Working Group, which, says the ACC, “could have the potential for creating an unnecessary layer of duplicative requirements that would only serve to create confusion for the regulated community and stretch agency resources—time and money that could be put to better use.”

Working Group report

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