New, Stronger Risk Management Program Rule Will Help Reduce the Impact of Chemical Disasters

Statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Mar 1, 2024

WASHINGTON (March 1, 2024)—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule strengthening the Risk Management Program. This program requires facilities that handle toxic chemicals to have a clear plan to prevent and prepare for chemical disasters. More than 12,000 facilities that manufacture, use or dispose of hazardous chemicals are covered under the rule. It’s an important move to protect communities, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“The Risk Management Program (RMP) rule is one of the most important tools we have available to plan for and prevent hazardous chemical releases in communities surrounding the facilities that handle them. The previous administration severely weakened those rules, depriving communities of information about what hazardous chemicals they might be exposed to and rolling back critical safety requirements intended to protect workers at facilities covered by the RMP. Thanks to today’s EPA action, the Risk Management Program rule is significantly stronger. It requires some companies to evaluate whether they can transition to safer technologies and processes, enhances training and protections for workers and requires facilities to consider the growing dangers of climate change-driven extreme weather in their risk management plans. EPA also expanded public access to information on RMP facilities and, for the first time, published an online tool that allows users to search for and view facilities’ risk management plans.

“While the new rule is a significant step forward, the best way to manage these disasters is to keep them from happening at all. The people who live near hazardous chemical facilities—disproportionately low-income communities, people who do not speak English as a first language, and people of color—have been calling for decades for stronger measures to prevent chemical disasters. The rule could have gone further to expand the requirement to assess safer alternatives to all covered facilities. A review of the chemicals covered under the rule is also long overdue.

“In recent years, hundreds of chemical incidents have occurred at facilities covered by the RMP—imposing a serious cost to workers and people living in harm’s way, as well as to first responders and local governments that have to deal with the aftermath. Companies that manufacture and store highly hazardous and toxic chemicals must take responsibility for preventing harm to their workers and neighbors. The new rule, while not perfect, will go a long way to protect people’s health. But there’s much more work to be done.”