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The critical need for chemical safety

Chemical spills affect everyday people
Chemical spills affect everyday people
Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images

Recently, Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator under George W. Bush, penned an article in USA Today (2/20/14) in which she discussed making American chemical plants safer.

Former Governor Whitman was charged with reducing the vulnerability of America’s chemical infrastructure in the aftermath of 9/11. She very quietly skirts the reasons this idea went nowhere fast. Instead, she reveals the country’s condition right now:

Today, more than 100 million Americans live close enough to one of the more than 470 chemical facilities across the country that could put 100,000 people at risk if there were a deliberate or accidental release of chemicals at those sites.

It is time — indeed, it is past time — to reduce the vulnerability of our nation's chemical industry infrastructure (and the danger to the people who live nearby) by requiring them to use inherently safer technologies and chemicals when such chemicals and processes are effective, affordable and available.

Meanwhile, former Fire Captain Ed Schiegel of Los Angeles, speaking for Greenpeace, writes, "I’ve personally witnessed many situations where our fire crews are going into a chemical facility while the employees are running out as fast as they can."

That’s how bad it is, folks. Find out which of those 470 chemical facilities that could put 100,000 people at risk are near your hometown. Schiegel was speaking out in support of Greenpeace’s effort to encourage the public to petition the EPA to follow President Obama’s Executive Order.

Whitman points out that the EPA has had the authority to compel chemical plants to use the effective, affordable, and available technologies and chemicals for 10 years. The chemical industries and their lobbyists have, of course, been fighting tooth and nail, because, even with the word ‘affordable’ thrown in, any change would cost some money.

Meanwhile, the toll America inflicts upon itself goes on and on. On August 6, 2012, an oil refinery pipe burst in Richmond, California, causing a vapor cloud that sent 15,000 people seeking medical treatment. Last year, an uninspected fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded, killing 15 and injuring hundreds more, not to mention leveling much of the area. Last month, a chemical spill in West Virginia left 300,000 people without drinking water.

This is not the work of enemies, foreign or domestic. We are doing it to ourselves.

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