Most of the chemical accidents reported to the EPA over the past 20 years involved one of 3 chemicals, according to Axios’ analysis of records obtained by the Data Liberation Project.
The big picture: Workers have suffered serious injuries from these mishaps.
Ammonia is the most common culprit in chemical accidents at facilities that have filed a risk management plan with the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Meatpacking and food processing plants often use large quantities of ammonia in their refrigeration systems.
- But when it escapes, it can be extremely dangerous. CNN recently detailed the severe health problems experienced by workers at Tyson Foods plants who were exposed to ammonium; one worker died.
- “Ammonia is very corrosive and very reactive with human tissues. If it’s breathed in because it’s in the air, it’s highly damaging and irritating to the lungs. It can cause real damage,” said Ted Schettler, science director at the environmental nonprofit Science and Environmental Health Network.”
Chlorine and chlorine dioxide are the second most common source of chemical accidents. They’re commonly used to disinfect and sanitize water, and to process sewage and industrial waste.
- Roughly two dozen people were hospitalized after a chlorine gas leak at a facility run by the Olin Corporation near Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2022.
- “High exposure breathing can cause lung damage, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Depending on the extent of the exposure, the length of the exposure, it can cause permanent damage that can result in long-term wheezing and asthma-like symptoms,” Schettler said.
Hydrofluoric acid is the third most common source of chemical accidents, according to EPA records. It’s used to make refrigerants, herbicides and pharmaceuticals, and in oil refineries.
- It can irritate the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract, per the CDC.
- Skin contact can cause severe damage and breathing in hydrogen fluoride at high levels or in combination with skin contact can cause death from an irregular heartbeat or from fluid buildup in the lungs.
*Original full-text article online at: https://www.axios.com/2023/09/22/chemicals-accidents-epa-ammonia-chlorine