⚫ The EPA updated rules related to chemical disasters, NJ must follow

⚫ The process here could take a few years

⚫ A group cites 11 chemical disasters in New Jersey since the start of 2021

Close to 100 facilities across New Jersey have the potential to cause catastrophic danger community-wide — and beyond — in the event of a fire, because of the dangerous substances they're working with on site.

New rules from the federal government aim to reduce the risk to the public, as well as the workers at these sensitive facilities, in the event of a chemical release, fire, or explosion.

Now it's up to New Jersey to get its own standards in line with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's update to the Risk Management Program.

Across the country, there are about 12,000 facilities covered by the rules, which were issued on March 1. The facilities use extremely hazardous substances, and at a high clip — chemical warehouses, oil refineries, and manufacturers, for example.

Qualco fire in Passaic on Jan. 14, 2022 (Nick Caloway via Twitter)
Qualco fire in Passaic on Jan. 14, 2022 (Nick Caloway via Twitter)

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In New Jersey, there are approximately 90 facilities that fit the bill, according to the New Jersey Work Environment Council. They exist in all counties except Atlantic and Mercer.

Under the update from the EPA, for the first time, chemical facility owners must:

🔥 Better evaluate risks of extreme weather and climate change

🔥 Implement prevention safeguards, such as safer chemicals, in sectors that tend to have higher incident rates

🔥 Launch third-party audits and root cause analyses after major accidental chemical releases

🔥 Provide information, upon request, about chemical hazards to people living within six miles of the facility, in at least two languages

🔥 Advance worker and union training and participation in hazard prevention

🔥 Make it easier for a qualified operator to shut down an operation if a there is a threat

"I think this is good for anybody who lives or works near one of these facilities," said Debra Coyle, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council.

According to the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, there have been 11 incidents of note in New Jersey since the beginning of 2021, including a chemical waste fire in Howell in 2023, and a massive blaze at a chemical plant that caused a shelter-in-place in Passaic in January 2022.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection must adopt the new EPA rules. True implementation of the upgraded standards will take a few years, Coyle said.

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