EPA Chemical Replacement Requirement Could Mean Big Changes

A new EPA proposal would change the way the agency’s Risk Management Program (RMP) regulates chemical process safety, and would make chemical replacement evaluations mandatory for companies operating in certain industries.

A pre-publication copy of the new rule was released to the public late last month. The proposed rule — officially titled Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act, Section 112(r)(7) — is scheduled to be published in an upcoming (but not yet specified) edition of the Federal Register. After publication, the EPA will allow 60 days for the public to comment on the proposed rule. The EPA has said it will also hold a public hearing on the proposed rule on March 29 in Washington D.C.

This proposed rule is notable because while both the EPA and OSHA have encouraged companies to move toward chemical substitution, this is the first time that either agency has proposed making the pursuit of safer, chemicals alternatives assessment required.

The proposed rule would mandate that three categories of industry — paper manufacturers, petroleum and coal companies, and chemical manufacturers — evaluate whether safer technologies and/or chemicals could be used as part of their regular process hazard analysis (PHA). As the EPA puts it in their proposal:

Specifically, owners or operators of facilities with Program 3 regulated processes in North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes 322 (paper manufacturing), 324 (petroleum and coal products manufacturing), and 325 (chemical manufacturing) would be required to conduct a safer technology and alternatives analysis (STAA) as part of their PHA, and to evaluate the feasibility of any inherently safer technology (IST) identified. The current PHA requirements include consideration of active, passive, and procedural measures to control hazards. The proposed modernization effort continues to support the analysis of those measures and adds consideration of IST alternatives.

In the text of the proposed rule, the EPA says it is focusing on these three industries because its goal is to “reduce the risk of serious accidental releases” and these industries “have a disproportionate share of reportable releases.”

In addition to requiring safer process and chemical alternatives, the new proposed rule would also require:

  • Regular third party audits and root cause analyses for process safety improvements and accident prevention
  • Enhanced emergency planning and preparedness requirements, including coordination between facilities and local communities
  • Strengthened emergency response planning
  • Improved abilities of local emergency planning committees (LEPCs)
  • Increased public access to chemical information and risk information

The proposed rule also makes clear that it is explicitly intended to complement Executive Order 13650: Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, issued by President Obama on August 1, 2013 in response to the West Fertilizer facility explosion and other catastrophic chemical facility incidents.

“Chemicals are a necessary part of our everyday lives; however, as we have too often seen they can cause loss of life, injury and significant property damage,” said Mathy Stanislaus, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management, in a press release. “It is these dangers that we are working to prevent and minimize as we propose revisions to the RMP, such as improving our prevention program requirements, ensuring coordination with first responders, and ensuring that accident planning protects local communities that need to evacuate or shelter-in-place during an accident.”

For more information about the proposed rule, you can visit the EPA’s Risk Management Program website here.

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