Reducing the risk of chemical enterprises starts with the implementation of the "right to know of the community"


Author: Zhang Luo Chulin
The Quangang District Environmental Protection Bureau of Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, issued a notice on November 4 that in the early morning of November 4, a total of 6.97 tons of carbon nine leaked at the connecting hose of the ship of Fujian Donggang Petrochemical Company to the wharf for carbon nine loading. According to the Beijing News, on the 5th, the Quangang District Agriculture, Forestry and Water Bureau issued the "Urgent Notice on Temporarily Delaying the Fishing, Sale and Use of Aquatic Products in the Sea Area of Xiaocuo Village in the jurisdiction", requiring a suspension of fishing, sale and use of aquatic products in polluted waters. In the following days, the Quangang District Environmental Protection Bureau reported in the ambient air quality report that the air indicators of the Quangang Urban Automatic Air Monitoring Station had returned to normal and continued to improve. What the facts are is yet to be followed.
In the modern industrial environment where processes and technologies are increasingly complex, such pollution accidents are not uncommon, how to reduce the risk of accidents, and how to minimize injuries when they occur? We combed through environmental accidents and related legislative processes in the United States to find lessons from the past.
▌How does the United States face chemical spills?
In the early hours of December 3, 1984, a chemical spill occurred at a pesticide factory near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, India, killing 8,000 people in 72 hours, killing nearly a million people and writing the record for the largest industrial disaster in history. The pesticide plant is set up by Union Carbide. In order to save costs, bicarbons used methyl isocyanate (MIC) as raw material, a volatile and dangerous liquid that was used by the German Nazis to poison Jews. At that time, 45 tons of these highly toxic compounds were cooled and stored in an underground stainless steel storage tank. On the night of the disaster, the storage pressure of methyl isocyanate increased, and then overflowed in a gaseous state and spread rapidly, although the factory urgently shut down the equipment, but 300,000 tons of toxic gas spread, and the sleeping Popal was shrouded in murderous fog.
The following year, an ethylene oxide plant explosion also occurred in the United States, forcing a series of chemical products to stop. A succession of catastrophic events fueled the anti-poison, anti-nuisance, and community right to know initiative movement since 1970, and the United States passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986, establishing a new federal program to regulate the production of chemicals in the United States. The bill requires state emergency departments to plan government emergency plans based on information such as toxic emissions inventories (TRIs) submitted by chemical companies, and to make the details of the emergency plans available to the public. If a company does not disclose the details of its hazardous chemical inventory and does not notify the local public and government after the accident, it is a technical violation of the law and will face fines and other penalties.
The bill stipulates that local emergency planning committees must be established at all levels. The Emergency Planning Committee, which includes representatives of firefighters, paramedics, government, media, businesses and communities, is responsible for developing local emergency plans based on information provided by local hazmat manufacturers as a guide for units and residents in the event of an emergency.
At the same time, the Act also clearly stipulates that the owner or operator of the equipment that has been leaked must notify the emergency officer of the community immediately after the leak. Notification shall be given by telephone or other means that ensures minimal delay. To facilitate emergency disposal and prevent delays, the notification should also include the following: (1) the name and nature of the chemical involved in the release; (2) indicate whether the substance is a particularly dangerous good under section 302 of the Act; (3) an estimate of the amount of the leak; (4) the time and duration of the breach; (5) the environmental medium in which the leakage occurred; (6) any known or foreseeable health risks associated with the breach, including medical guidance for individuals exposed to the breach; (7) appropriate precautions that may be required, such as evacuation; (8) Name and contact number of the contact person for obtaining further information. The bill also provides for penalties for non-compliance.
In addition, with the change of chemical accident types, in order to further reduce losses, the CleanAir Act 1990 (CAA) passed by Congress in 1990 clarified the relevant content of environmental emergency preparedness for hazardous chemicals, and under the regulation of this Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Risk Management Program (RMP) system. The system stipulates 77 toxic substances and 63 flammable and explosive substances, stipulates the scope of their reporting, and identifies enterprises that need to submit risk management plans. Plants that produce, process and store these chemicals need to develop a risk management plan and submit it to the EPD, including emergency response plans, such as how to alert surrounding communities as soon as possible, and how to notify and cooperate with government emergency departments.
▌Living together, sharing risks
These bills in the United States are based on the "right of the community to know". In the 1980s, when toxic substances from Silicon Valley Fast Semiconductor flowed into the community, causing women to give birth to crippled children, community activists combined firefighters, the media, occupational safety centers, labor unions, and technology practitioners to form the "Silicon Valley Poison Alliance" to advocate for the community's right to know.
The community's right to know protects the most basic right to survival and freedom from fear, and its core value is to reduce the risk of living environment. The purpose of the community's right to know is to let residents know what pollutants exist in the environment and what concentrations, and when the pollution continues to spread and expand its impact, corresponding protective measures can be taken. Effectively disclosing environmental information, and delivering it to the people in the affected area as completely as possible, informing risk warnings, and reducing people's unwitting harm is the responsibility of the government and enterprises for environmental governance and hazard early warning.
In many cities with developed petrochemical industries, factories are often separated from homes by only a wall. If residents don't know what is produced in a factory near their home, whether it is dangerous, and how can they protect themselves and their families in the event of an accident? The general public has no intention of prying into trade secrets, but from the perspective of safety and environmental risk management, of course, it is necessary to know what potential risks exist in the environment, such as dangerous substances hoarded in factories, harmful pollutants discharged, possible hazard accidents or long-term chronic accumulated hazard risks, and the actual pollution spread of various environmental factors such as air, water, soil and other environmental factors after accidents, these are environmental information closely related to people's lives and health, and should not be trade secrets.
Risk communication aims to enable society to face these problems together, because when disaster strikes, everyone must bear it together. The guarantee of the community's right to know is to enable people who cannot avoid living with the chemical industry to have the resources, knowledge and ability to share the risks brought about by modern industry.
Informed communication is the foundation of good communication, and opaque information will only lead to panic in response and handling and irresponsible rumors spreading. The experience of chemical spills and explosions around the world shows that enterprises should take responsibility for environmental responsibility and take the initiative to inform complete environmental information, and the government should also clearly incorporate environmental and risk information projects and disclosure mechanisms into the law and effectively implement them to avoid the recurrence of tragedies.
Click Learn about the community's right to know
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Risk, Environment, Community, Emergency, Occurrence, Right to Know, Act, Chemicals, Information