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Lautenberg Introduces Bills to Increase Protections for Communities Near Chemical and Water Plants
Hundreds of Chemical, Drinking Water, and Wastewater Plants Pose Risk to Millions of Americans
Lautenberg Press Office, 202-224-3224
Thursday, March 31,
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced two pieces of legislation that seek to reduce the risk posed to communities by the thousands of chemical, drinking water, and wastewater facilities throughout the United States. The legislation would require plants to assess and develop plans to address their vulnerabilities, and would require the highest-risk facilities to use Inherently Safer Technology (IST) that increase public and environmental safety. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is an original co-sponsor of both bills.
“A catastrophic accident or terrorist attack at one of America’s chemical plants or water treatment facilities would have devastating consequences for the surrounding communities,” Lautenberg said. “In New Jersey more than 12 million people live close to one high-risk plant. These plants provide valuable services, but they also pose significant threats. When companies use dangerous chemicals, it is essential that they also use the safest methods available. This common-sense legislation would ensure a thorough review of risk, and help us move toward more secure plants and safer communities.”
The “Secure Water Facilities Act” and “Secure Chemical Facilities Act” would require changes for the highest-risk facilities, preventing undue burdens on small, low-risk facilities while protecting against the greatest threats. Some of the changes that can be implemented at water and chemical plants include reducing the amount of lethal gases stored on-site or minimizing the use of dangerous chlorine gas.
The two bills, which are endorsed by a broad coalition of 100 environmental, health, and labor groups, would:
- Require the chemical and water facilities to assess their vulnerability to attack, develop a plan to address those vulnerabilities and respond to an emergency, and provide worker training to carry out the plan.
- Require facilities using dangerous chemicals to evaluate whether the facility could reduce the consequences of an attack by, for example, using a safer chemical or process. The facility must implement those safer measures if it has been classified as one of the highest-risk facilities, implementation of safer measures is feasible, and implementation would not increase risk overall by shifting risk to another location.
- Protect sensitive security information from disclosure, while ensuring information sharing between state and local governments, first-responders, and workers.
- Allow communities to have a role in ensuring local facilities comply with these regulations.
- Authorize grants to help defray the cost of assessing vulnerabilities, developing security and response plans, and implementing safer measures.
According to the Congressional Research Service, hundreds of facilities pose risks to millions of Americans:
- More than 90 facilities each pose a catastrophic risk to a million or more area residents and workers.
- More than 400 facilities each pose a risk to 100,000 or more residents and workers.
- More than 2,100 facilities each pose a risk to 10,000 or more people.
Since 2001, hundreds of chemical and water facilities have already switched to safer and more secure chemicals or processes, eliminating risks to millions of people. A survey by the Center for American Progress identified 554 drinking water and wastewater plants in 47 states that have increased security by replacing extremely hazardous substances with safer chemicals or processes, eliminating risk to 40 million people. However, companies are not required to consider these alternatives, and therefore many have not. Lautenberg’s legislative package would build on these achievements and increase safety at both chemical and water facilities nationwide.
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