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Report: Consumer Protection
Chemical facilities pose a danger to the surrounding community
Across the United States, thousands of industrial facilities use and store hazardous chemicals in large quantities that pose major risks to their neighbors. More than 100 of these facilities would each put at least one million people at risk of injury or death in the event of a chemical release.
Accidents at chemical and industrial facilities are common. From 2000 to 2009, companies, employees and concerned citizens reported more than 338,000 accidents involving oil or chemicals to the National Response Center (NRC), or more than 33,000 incidents every year. These accidents range from an oil sheen to a major disaster that resulted in casualties.
After the September 11 attacks, it became increasingly apparent that these facilities pose a security threat, as they could become the target of a terrorist attack. A report by the Army Surgeon General ranked an attack on a chemical plant second only to a widespread biological attack in magnitude of the hazard to the public.
These are often unnecessary dangers because safer alternatives are available
Some facilities have made major progress by switching to the use of safer chemicals and processes that pose less of a threat to surrounding communities in the event of an accident. Soon after September 11, 2001, for example, the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant in Washington, DC switched from using and storing chlorine gas and sulfur dioxide on-site to using sodium hypochlorite bleach in its processes.
On November 2, 2009, Clorox announced that it will, over the next several years, convert its seven U.S. plants to use high-strength bleach rather than chlorine in the manufacturing of household bleach. The company began with its Fairfield, Calif., plant and will switch its six other U.S. plants over the coming years.
Unfortunately, most industry organizations have placed emphasis on increasing physical site security measures. Hiring more guards, building higher fences, and placing more lights may all be part of a good security plan, but this does not actually reduce the threat to the community.
Switching to safer chemicals and processes not only reduces the chemical hazard to the community, but also reduces the cost of physical security and the attractiveness of the facility as a target for attack. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair Joseph Lieberman has called safer chemicals and processes “the only foolproof way to defeat a terrorist determined to strike a chemical facility.”
A multimillion dollar campaign against common sense solutions
The findings in this report show how the outsized influence of corporate interests in the political process has kept common sense chemical disaster prevention measures from becoming law. Comprehensive chemical security legislation has been vigorously opposed by the corporations that own and operate some of the most dangerous facilities in the country. It now faces an uncertain pathway through the Senate.
U.S. PIRG examined the Risk Management Plans that facilities using and storing high hazard chemicals are required to file with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in order to determine the U.S. facilities that pose the greatest danger to the surrounding community in the event of an attack or accident. We then determined the parent companies that own and operate facilities putting the greatest numbers of people in jeopardy. That analysis identified the 14 most dangerous companies in the U.S.
We then researched those corporations’ lobbying expenses, both how much they spend and who is participating in the “revolving door” of lobbying employment. We also reviewed campaign contributions from the company CEOs and senior executives, their political action committees, and their affiliated trade associations.
- The fourteen companies endangering the most people in the event of an accident or attack on one of their facilities are: Clorox, Kuehne Chemical, JCI Jones, KIK Custom Products, DuPont, PVS Chemicals, Olin, DX Holding, Solvay, Valero, Occidental Petroleum, Honeywell, Dow Chemical, and Sunoco. (Table 1).
- These 14 parent companies own 163 facilities in 37 different states and Puerto Rico (Appendix A).
- The facilities owned by The Clorox Company, Kuehne Chemical, and JCI Jones Chemical each put more than 12 million people at risk.
- These fourteen companies and their affiliated trade associations spent $69,286,198 lobbying the committees with jurisdiction over chemical security legislation in 2008 and 2009 —Energy and Commerce and Homeland Security in the House, and Environment and Public Works and Homeland Security and Government Oversight in the Senate.
- The political action committees (PACs) of these fourteen companies and the PACs of their affiliated trade associations gave $2,187,868 in the 2008 election cycle and the 2010 cycle to date directly to the campaigns of members of the committees of jurisdiction over chemical security legislation.
- These fourteen companies and their affiliated trade associations employ 20 ‘revolving door’ lobbyists who previously staffed the committees of jurisdiction over chemical security and toxics before becoming lobbyists on those same issues.
- Congress should pass and the President should sign comprehensive chemical security legislation that covers all facilities using and storing high hazard chemicals. Such legislation should require that all high risk facilities assess their ability to reduce the consequences of an attack or accident at a facility to the community, and should give the federal government the ability to require implementation of those methods at the most dangerous facilities.
- Congress should move a wide range of good government reforms to help put the voters on equal footing with corporations. These reforms include: strong corporate governance changes like the Shareholder Protection Act (H.R. 4790), which would require corporations to get prior approval of their political expenditures from their shareholders; revolving door reforms to keep government workers from “cashing in” on their public service in lobby firms; and a voluntary small donor focused public financing system which would allow citizens to reclaim the process by reducing the access and influence of large corporate donors.
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