Chemical plants

  • Chemical facilities safetySecurity at U.S. chemical plants, and monitoring that security, still fall short

    Security experts, citing a critical Senate report, are warning that the effort by industry and the government to secure U.S. chemical facilities against terrorist attacks has so far been lackluster at best. The Senate report, sponsored by former Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), found that after eight years and $595 million dollars spent on efforts to further chemical plant security, there had been only thirty-nine compliance inspections of the 4,011 national facilities at risk. In any event, the current chemical facility security policies apply only to a fraction of the facilities which produce, store, or transport toxic materials around the country. The experts hope that H. R. 4007, which reformed and renewed the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), and which became Public Law No: 113-254 on 18 December 2014, will improve and accelerate the security work needed at U.S. chemical facilities.

  • Chemical facilitiesChinese ownership of a methanol plant worries Louisiana parish residents

    Roughly 150 petrochemical companies and seventeen refineries operate in a zone between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, an area locals call “Cancer Alley” due to the health concerns that have arisen during the past few decades of industrialization. Residents of St. James Parish have voiced their opposition to a proposed methanol plant in the parish. The plant will be operated by Yuhuang Chemical Inc., a subsidiary of Chinese natural gas giant Shandong Yuhuang. Recently, Shandong Yuhuang, parent company of the proposed plant in St. James, has received bad press in China for reportedly neglecting environmental laws, including releasing toxic emissions in the city of Heze, which environmentalists have connected to rising cancer rates and contaminated water.

  • Chemical facility safetyHouse approves 4-year extension of chemical facility safety legislation

    On 11 December the House approved a 4-year reauthorization of DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standardsprogram (CFATS), meant to protect U.S. chemical facilities from terrorist attacks. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill(H.R. 4007). Implementing the CFATS program will cost roughly $349 million over fiscal years 2015 to 2019. The CFATS, authorized in Section 550 of the 2007 DHS Appropriations Act, requires industrial facilities with certain levels of use or storage of chemicals to submit information about their chemical holdings to DHS, assess their vulnerabilities, and submit plans to address those vulnerabilities and secure their chemical holdings.

  • Chemical spillsHungarian red mud spill did little long-term damage

    By Tom Marshall

    The aftereffects of the 2010 red mud spill that threatened to poison great swathes of the Hungarian countryside have turned out to be far less harmful than scientists originally feared. The disaster happened when weeks of heavy rain caused a dam to collapse at a containment facility in Ajka in Western Hungary. It released around a million cubic meters of toxic sludge into the Torna-Marcal river system, onto the Hungarian plain and ultimately into the Danube. The mud, a byproduct of refining aluminum from bauxite ore, was dangerously alkaline, extremely salty and contained potentially toxic metals like chromium and vanadium.

  • Chemical plantsA third of American schoolchildren face risk of chemical catastrophe

    Chemical factories, refineries, bleach manufacturing, water and waste water treatment, and other facilities that produce, use, or store significant quantities of certain chemicals identified as hazardous to human health or the environment must report to the Risk Management Program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A new interactive map and study find that one in three American schoolchildren attends school within the danger zone of a hazardous chemical facility. They found 19.6 million children in public and private schools in forty-eight states are within the vulnerability zone of at least one chemical facility, according to data the facilities provide to the EPA.

  • Chemical plant safetyTexas chemical plant disaster highlights dangers at similar sites

    Following a deadly 17 April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas which took fifteen lives, officials from the managing company moved to shutter similar sites, including an urban one in Pennsylvania. Among the plants to be closed was an El Dorado Chemical Company plant in Pittsburgh, located right next to residential area and a school – on the site of which the company stored around thirty tons of ammonium nitrate. The city emergency management department was aware that the plant was to be closed, but they were not informed of the date – or the fact that the company chose to move the volatile and toxic material. City leaders say that using thirty-three trains to carry the toxic materials through the city was even more dangerous than leaving it in storage on site.

  • Chemical plant safetyDHS slow to inspect high-risk chemical plants

    Congress passed the $595 million Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standardsprogram in 2006 to help regulate high-risk chemical facilities, but nearly a year after the massive chemical explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, a new report found little improvement in securing threats from the U.S. 4,011 high-risk chemical facilities.As of 30 June, DHS has not yet conducted security compliance inspections on 3,972 of the 4,011 high-risk chemical facilities.

  • Chemical plant safetyTexas limits release of information about toxic chemicals storage in the state

    Shortly after the 2013 chemical explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services(DSHS) releasedto several media outlets its list of businesses across the state that store or handle large supplies of chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, the chemical which ignited the explosion. More recently, the department has been working to limit the release of its database of chemical inventories from the public.

  • Ammonium nitrateFederal oversight of ammonium nitrate exceedingly weak

    A new Government Accountability Office(GAO) report found that the federal government has no way of fully knowing which chemical facilities stockammonium nitrate, a widely used fertilizer which was the cause of the explosion last year at a West, Texas fertilizer plan, which resulted in the death of fourteen people – and which was used by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City twenty years ago. Poor data sharing with states, outdated federal policies, and numerous industry exemptions have contributed to a weak federal oversight. Without improved monitoring, regulators “will not know the extent to which dangerous conditions at some facilities may continue to exist,’’ the GAO report said.

  • Chemical facilitiesOne in ten American schoolchildren in school near risky chemical facility

    One year after the fertilizer facility explosion in West, Texas, which destroyed and severely damaged nearby schools, nearly one in ten American schoolchildren live and study within one mile of a potentially dangerous chemical facility. A new study shows that 4.6 million children at nearly 10,000 schools across the country are within a mile of a facility which produces, uses, or stores significant quantities of hazardous chemicals identified by EPA as particularly risky to human health or the environment if they are spilled, released into the air, or are involved in an explosion or fire.

  • Chemical plant securityChemical plant security measure moves forward in the House

    The House Homeland Security Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are making progress on legislation meant to extend DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standardsprogram, which helps secure commercial chemical plants from terrorist attacks. Several attempts by the House Homeland Security Committee to extend the program have failed due to disagreements with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also oversees the matter.

  • Chemical spillsW.Va. residents still wary about their drinking water

    The January 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 residents, has changed how residents use public water. Authorities claimed the water was safe for consumption on 13 January, since MCHM levels had dropped below a federal safety threshold of one part per million. Residents remain skeptical, with some collecting rain water, and other relying on clean water distributed by non-profits.

  • Chemical spillsWest Virginia chemical spill degrades air, water quality

    In the more than two months since the 9 January chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River, new findings reveal the nature of the chemicals that were released into the water and then into the air in residents’ houses. The lack of data motivated researchers to take on essential odor-related research that went beyond their National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research grant to better understand the properties of the chemical mixture called crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, the major component in the crude mix of the spilled chemicals into the Elk River

  • Chemical plant safetyDebate over inherently safer technology (IST) at chemical plants intensifies

    Recent accidents at chemical facilities around the country have prompt environmental groups and workplace safety advocates to highlight the need for implementing inherently safer technology (IST) at facilities using hazardous chemicals. IST is a methodology or an approach which calls for the adoption of a hierarchy of actions: minimize use of hazardous chemicals, substitute or replace hazardous chemicals with safer ones, moderate or shift to less hazardous chemicals or processes at lower temperatures and pressures, and simplify processes and design plants to eliminate unnecessary complexity.The industry argues that IST is a superficially simple concept but that, in reality, it is rather complex. For example, IST calls for facilities to reduce the amount of materials or chemicals they store on-site, which would increase transportation of the materials or chemicals, thus spreading the risk of chemical accidents to different points along the supply chain.

  • Chemical spillsDetermining long-term effects of West Virginia chemical spill

    A chemical mixture called crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) is used during the separation and cleaning of coal products. More than 10,000 gallons of the chemical leaked from a storage tank near Charleston, West Virginia, and entered the river upstream of a water-treatment plant on 9 January. The drinking water of more than 300,000 West Virginians was contaminated. Water restrictions began to be lifted on 13 January, but residents are still detecting the telltale odors of MCHM. Virginia Tech faculty engineers and students are unravelling fundamental chemical and health properties of MCHM.