Chemical plants

  • 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 Poor data sharing with states, outdated federal policies, and numerous industry exemptions have contributed to a weak federal oversight.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.

  • Oil spills“Encouraged” bacteria cleaning up more effectively after oil spills

    Bioremediation is nature’s way of cleaning up. Plants, bacterial decomposers, or enzymes are used to remove contaminants and restore the balance of nature in the wake of pollution incidents. What is surprising is that given the right kind of encouragement, bacteria can be even more effective. Researchers in Norway have achieved surprising results by exploiting nature’s own ability to clean up after oil spills.

  • Chemical leaksNot much is known about long-term health effects of chemical leaked in W.Va.

    In January, 10,000 gallons an obscure chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM, used in processing coal, leaked from storage tanks into the nearby Elk River in the Charleston, West Virginia area, contaminating the water of more than 300,000 residents for days. To what degree MCHM affects long-term human and fetal health is a major concern for residents because of the lack of complete toxicology and other studies on the chemical.

  • Chemical spillsW.Va. spill leads lawmakers, industry to look at reforming toxic substances law

    The government was slow to respond to the 9 January 2014 massive chemical spill in West Virginia because the law governing such response, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), limits regulatory agencies’ authority to investigate such spills.Under TSCA, the EPA must first prove that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk to health or the environment before it can require the needed testing that would show a potential risk. One observer called this a Catch-22, telling a congressional panel that “This is like requiring a doctor to prove that a patient has cancer before being able to order a biopsy.”

  • Chemical facilitiesExxonMobil to pay fines for violations at its Baton Rouge chemical facilities

    In a settlement with Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), ExxonMobil is ordered to pay $2.329 million to address violations from 2008 to 2013 at its greater Baton Rouge facilities. ExxonMobil was cited for a series of problems at its refinery and resin-finishing and chemical plants in East Baton Rouge Parish, and its tank-farm facility in West Baton Rouge.

  • Chemical plantsPresidential commission releases chemical plants safety recommendations

    There are 473 chemical facilities in the United States in which accidents would put 100,000 or more people at risk. In the aftermath of the May 2013 deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, President Barack Obama established a working group to develop a list of potential changes to improve the industry’s risk management practices. Nearly two months past the end of October 2013 deadline, the group released their recommendations in early January.

  • Chemical plant safetyPreventing a Bhopal-like catastrophe in New Jersey

    New Jersey is home to ninety facilities which produce and store large quantities of highly toxic chemicals. A superstorm or terrorist attack could doom millions of people around southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania to a Bhopal, 1984-like fate if either of these facilities and their storage tanks were affected.Typically, in the aftermath of major disasters, a blue ribbon panel is created to review preventative measures that could have been taken before the disaster. Security experts say that there is no need to wait for a post-disaster blue ribbon panel investigation to know what sensible safety measures should be implemented now.

  • Chemical plant safetyHalt of CFATS work disrupts debate over program’s merit

    The budget impasse-related halting of monitoring and enforcing compliance with the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) comes at a time of growing criticism of the measure by GOP – but not only GOP – lawmakers, who complain that there are too many problems with CFATS and the way it has so far been implemented.