• “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.

  • Not 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.

  • W.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.”

  • ExxonMobil 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.

  • Presidential 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.

  • Preventing 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.

  • Halt 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.

  • Furloughs hamper U.S. ability to respond to chemical disasters

    Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board(CSB) warned that the agency would be unable to respond to major chemical-related disasters if the government shutdown continued. The agency has furloughed more than 90 percent of its workers. The shutdown has delayed other CSB investigations into chemical accidents in California, Utah, Washington, and Texas. Moure-Eraso said that the delays in investigations could threaten public safety as the agency is unable to make recommendations for prevention of similar accidents.

  • Safety engineers welcome Obama’s chemical facility safety Executive Order

    The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) said it supports President Obama’s Executive Order to improve federal agency coordination of U.S. chemical facility safety and security oversight. The ASSE notes that while the causes of each chemical incident are unique and require careful investigation to help ensure similar incidents do not reoccur, common to every incident are the often overlapping and sometimes confusing layers of regulatory responsibility over facilities where potentially harmful chemicals are produced or stored.

  • Obama orders safety and security review of chemical plants

    EPA data show there are 470 U.S. chemical facilities that put at least 100,000 people at risk in the event of a poison gas release. According to the American Chemistry Council, there are 13,796 chemical facilities in the country. The Fertilizer Institute counts about 6,000 fertilizer distributors around the country like the one that exploded 17 April. President Obama has ordered a government review of safety and security procedures at chemical plants in the United States.

  • Lawmakers, citing shortcomings, threaten funding for chemical plant safety program

    Heads of three congressional panels urge DHS secretary Janet Napolitano to take to correct shortcomings in the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. “As the authorizers and appropriators of this program, we write to you to express serious reservations about continuing to extend CFATS funding without evidence of substantial programmatic improvement,” the three chairmen write in their letter to Napolitano. The lawmakers pointed to flaws in the program’s risk evaluation system, compliance hurdles, implementation delays, and the failure of the program to identify vulnerable facilities.

  • Texas to appeal FEMA decision not to declare West, Texas a disaster area

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said President Obama would not declare West, Texas a disaster area in the wake of the massive fertilizer plant explosion there two months ago, and Texas governor Rick Perry is not happy. FEMA said Texas did not make the case the state lacked funds for cleanup and recovery efforts.

  • House panel cuts DHS chemical plant monitoring program’s budget

    Budget authors in the House proposed cutting almost $9 million from what DHS had requested for high-risk chemical tracking in the 2014 fiscal year. The House Appropriations Committee, indicating its lack of confidence in DHS’s oversight of fertilizer plants like Texas’s West Fertilizer Company, which exploded earlier this year, also withheld $20 million from the program until DHS responded in detail to questions the committee sent the department.

  • Ammonium nitrate fertilizers are inherently risky, but the benefits are many

    The deadly explosion has brought the $10 billion U.S. fertilizer industry to the attention of the mainstream media, but the risks inherent in fertilizer production and storage are not a secret to people close to the industry. Ammonium nitrate may be dangerous, but its benefits cannot be ignored.

  • Critics charge DHS chemical plant security program a failure

    In 2006 Congress passed the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, or CFATS, which set security standards chemical plants had to meet; there are 4,400 chemical plants covered by CFATS, of which 120 are considered especially dangerous, as a chemical release– accidental or as a result of a terrorist act — in any one of them would cause hundreds of thousands of casualties; after four-and-half years and $480 millions spent on CFATS, not a single plant of the 4,400 had been fully inspected; of the 120 riskiest plants, 11 had a preliminary inspection done; not a single site security plan has been approved