Commentary Environment

Elected officials in Louisville are joining lawmakers from around the country in calling for stronger federal rules to prevent disasters at high-risk chemical facilities. 

The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing Risk Management Plan (RMP) rules for more than 12,000 high-risk facilities around the country. The facilities covered by the rules contain highly corrosive, explosive and toxic chemicals that present a danger to the public when disasters strike. 

In a letter to EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, 70 elected officials from 16 states are calling for stronger rules to prevent explosions, limit catastrophic releases, improve accountability and account for the cumulative health impacts of living near industrial corridors. 

“We and our constituents are unwilling to continue living with the constant threat of chemical disasters that could destroy our neighborhoods, businesses, and communities, when safer chemicals and technologies exist,” the letter states.  “Injuries, death and disease are not acceptable risks, and our communities are not sacrifice zones.”

Kentucky has more than 200 RMP facilities, according to a Houston Chronicle database. Around two-thirds of Louisville residents live within three miles of one, according to a 2018 study from the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform.

Environmental Justice Health Alliance For Chemical Policy Reform

Democratic Kentucky House Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville was one of five elected officials from Kentucky to sign onto the letter. Another state lawmaker and three metro council members also signed.

Scott said she joined the effort after hearing from residents in her district.

Those who live nearby Louisville’s chemical corridor, known as Rubbertown, are disproportionately low-income and people of color, as is often the case nearby industrial areas in the U.S.   

“So that’s why it’s important that we have accountability measures to make sure that preventative programs are in place, to make sure that emergency response programs are more robust than we have historically seen,” Scott said. 

In the last five years, Kentucky’s 209 RMP facilities had reported 28 incidents that included 12 injuries, 20 evacuations and amounted to nearly $10 million in damages, according to the Houston Chronicle database

For example, back in 2011, Carbide Industries ignored warning signs that led to a furnace explosion that killed two workers and injured two others in Louisville’s Rubbertown. In 2018, another Rubbertown company, Zeon Chemicals, released more than 700 pounds of butadiene, a known carcinogen, into the air, records show

The letter to the EPA identifies six priorities for future rulemaking:

  1. Preventing disasters through hazard reduction
  2. Preparing chemical facilities for climate change
  3. Including common sense emergency response measures
  4. Increasing accountability, enforceability and corrective action for chemical facilities
  5. Expanding the RMP program to include a broader range of facilities
  6. Considering the cumulative health impacts of industrial corridors, and underlying vulnerabilities. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.