The Local Role in Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security: January Chemical Safety Listening Sessions

explosion5.siSeveral hundred thousand facilities in communities throughout the United States use, manufacture, store, transport, or deliver chemicals in some manner, encompassing everything from petroleum refineries to pharmaceutical manufacturers to hardware stores. Due to its size and characteristics, the Chemical Sector may be an attractive target for attack or be at risk of incidents caused by accidents or natural disasters. Moreover, many chemicals, either in their base form or when combined with others, can cause significant injuries if used maliciously. A successful attack on certain high-risk facilities could cause a significant number of deaths and injuries and impacts of an accident or attack are far-reaching and can occur in a variety of ways. The manufacturing, use, storage, and distribution of chemicals must be secured from these risks.

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) sector specific plan, the Chemical Sector is an integral component of the U.S. economy, converting various raw materials into more than 70,000 diverse products, many of which are critical to the health and well-being of the nation’s citizenry, security, and economy. The Chemical Sector has a long history of legislation and regulation related to health, safety, accident prevention, emergency response, and the environment. Government regulating entities include the DHS, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and various state agencies. But with almost of all of the hundreds of thousands facilities located within local communities and the risk posed to public and environmental safety and health, what involvement do local governments and public health officials have in their regulation?

Some local health departments, such as the Town of Acton in Massachusetts, have enacted local bylaws to mitigate the public and environmental health threat posed by the manufacturing, use, storage, and distribution of hazardous materials within their jurisdictions. The Town of Acton’s hazardous material regulation was enacted in response to the contamination of two municipal drinking water wells by W.R. Grace in 1978 and provides the authority to the public health department to permit and inspect commercial entities manufacturing, using, and storing hazardous materials in quantities 25 gallons/pounds or greater. Hazardous Material permit fees are collected annually and provide a dedicated revenue stream to operate the regulatory program. Public health officials routinely inspect permitted hazardous material facilities within the community and coordinate monitoring and response with other government officials, such as the local fire department and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

“A local hazardous materials regulation gives our local health department the authority to permit, inspect, and intervene at hazardous materials facilities and protect the health of the community,” said Doug Halley, Health Department Director at the Town of Acton in Massachusetts. “Permitting hazardous facilities locally can also generate dedicated revenues to operate the program in a sustainable manner, giving us the resources to protect our community from chemical hazards even when state agencies are cutting back. Ultimately, our local regulation gives us the authority and resources needed to be partners with other local, state and Federal agencies in ensuring secure and safe chemical facilities and building a more resilient community.”

While some communities like the Town of Acton have been regulating chemical facilities for many years, more can be done locally to secure the facilities from incidents caused by attack, accidents, or natural disasters. Executive Order (EO) 13650: Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, issued by President Obama in August 2013, orders a working group made of DHS and other Federal agencies to develop a plan to support and further enable efforts by state regulators, state, local, and tribal emergency responders, chemical facility owners and operators, and local and tribal communities to work together to improve chemical facility safety and security. The working group hosts listening sessions to share an overview of the various sections of the EO and the progress made to date.

Additionally, stakeholders such as chemical producers or storage companies, agricultural supply companies, state and local regulators, first responders, and environmental or community groups will have the chance to give input on areas in the EO. New dates and times for upcoming listening sessions include:

  • Wednesday, January 8, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. in Sacramento, CA
  • Thursday, January 9, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. in Los Angeles, CA
  • Friday, January 10, 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. in Los Angeles, CA
  • Tuesday, January 14, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. in Washington, DC
  • Friday, January 24, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. in Houston, TX

Learn more and register for a listening session

About Justin Snair

Justin serves as a Senior Program Analyst for Critical Infrastructure and Environmental Security at NACCHO. Prior to coming to NACCHO, Justin worked as an environmental health officer for a local heath department in Massachusetts. Twitter: @JustinSnair

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