For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (240) 247-0296
EPA Declines to Avert Mass-Casualty Refinery Accidents
Despite near misses, agency claims ignorance on hydrogen fluoride risks.
WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to consider a legal petition seeking to ban a refinery chemical with the potential to cause catastrophic loss of life in American cities. The petition was filed this June by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) following a massive explosion at a Philadelphia refinery that could have caused a Bhopal-scale public safety disaster.
At issue is the chemical hydrogen fluoride (HF), the most hazardous substance used in that industry. HF is still used at more than a third of the 148 operating refineries in the U.S.in areas containing more than 22 million residents. Exposure to merely 170 parts per million of HF in air for ten minutes can result in death or serious injury while an HF plume can linger for hours.
In its response to PEER, EPA claims a “lack of sufficient facts establishing that it is necessary for the Agency to issue a rule” and that it “cannot make the threshold determinations necessary” to determine if HF constitutes “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”
The PEER petition pointed to several recent near-miss HF releases, including –
- The 2019 explosion at the Philadelphia Energy Solution refinery, the largest on the Eastern Seaboard, near its HF storage which put 300,000 residents and workers at risk;
- The 2015 explosion at a Torrance, California refinery which nearly breached HF storage tanks that could have killed or sickened hundreds of thousands near the heart of L.A.; and
- A 2012 HF release in South Korea that killed five workers, sickened thousands, and left a disaster zone in its wake.
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Progressive independent media doesn’t exist without support from its readers.
There’s no way around it. No ads. No billionaires. Just the people who believe in this mission and our work.
If you believe the survival of independent media is vital to do the kind of watchdog journalism that a healthy democracy requires, please step forward with a donation to non-profit Common Dreams today:
“EPA appears to be saying that it will not act until there is a body count,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, noting that EPA does not dispute that it has the authority to order that refineries use safer alternatives. “Preventing eco-cataclysms is a major reason why we even have an EPA.”
In April 2019, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) also asked EPA to use its authority to prevent “catastrophic releases” of HF and consider ordering reliance upon “inherently safer” technologies. However, CSB has no power to enforce its recommendations.
“EPA has decided it will not act until a lawsuit forces it to, which sets a dangerously low bar for public safety.” added Whitehouse, noting that the legal standard to establish a mandatory EPA duty is quite high. “After years of regulatory inaction, it is no wonder that industrial safety in the U.S. is declining to the levels seen in developing countries.”
Although the PEER petition was filed in June, EPA claimed not to have received it until August, asserting that its response was within the 90 days required by law.
This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.
Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news outlet. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Won't Exist.
Please select a donation method:
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.