AUSTIN, TEXAS — March 24 — BP’ U.S. facilities have had more than 3565 accidents since 1990, ranking first in the nation, according to a 2004 report by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). In the wake of the horrible accident at a BP refinery in Texas City Wednesday, TexPIRG called on oil refineries and chemical plants to switch to safer chemicals and processes to reduce these kinds of accidents.
The report, Irresponsible Care: How the Chemical Industry Fails to Protect the Public From Chemical Accidents, analyzed the history of accidents at the facilities that implement Responsible Care®, a voluntary security code subscribed to by companies that are members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the largest industry lobbying organization and loudest opponent of mandatory safety standards.
“The refining and chemical industry’s so-called Responsible Care plan lets the fox guard the chicken coop,” said Stephanie Carter, Field Organizer with TexPIRG. “Tragically, as we experienced yesterday, accidents are happening at refineries and chemical facilities both in Texas and around the country. Oil refineries and chemical plants should take action to protect the public immediately, and not wait for another catastrophe to happen. They need to act now to switch to safer alternatives.”
In the report, TexPIRG analyzed accident data compiled by the National Response Center, the sole national point of contact for reporting oil and chemical discharges into the environment in the United States, from 1990 through 2003. TexPIRG looked only at ACC member companies, who are required to adopt the Responsible Care® guidelines as a condition of their membership in the trade association.
Among the key findings in the report:
Facilities in Texas that are owned by ACC member companies have had 7,072 accidents since 1990, ranking the state 1st in the nation.
BP, owner of the refinery in Texas City that was rattled by an explosion on Wednesday, ranked first for the most accidents at their facilities since 1990.
Between 1990 and 2003, there has been no downward trend in the number of accidents at facilities that have implemented Responsible Care®.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified more than 120 chemical facilities that each put more than one million people at risk of injury or death because of the hazardous chemicals they use and store onsite. No federal government regulation requires industries to consider implementing inherently safer technology.
Another serious problem is the use of hydrofluoric acid onsite at refineries. A 2003 TexPIRG Report, Needless Risk: Oil Refineries And Hazard Reduction, found that BP’s Texas City refinery also uses and stores 800,000 pounds of amounts of hydrofluoric acid onsite. If accidentally released, hydrofluoric acid forms an aerosol cloud over surrounding communities that can cause skin and deep tissue burns, serious bone damage, and death by burns to the skin, tissue or lungs. Symptoms from exposure continue for days if injuries are not treated and may not even appear for up to 24 hours after exposure. An estimated 550,000 people live within the vulnerability zone of the BP site in Texas City.
The largest hydrofluoric acid release in the United States took place in 1987 at Marathon Oil’s Texas City refinery, when a pipe ruptured at a refinery and released 30,000 pounds of the chemical. More than a thousand people were sent to the hospital as a result of the accident, and 3,000 residents were forced to evacuate their community for three days.
Existing refineries could switch to sulfuric acid, which poses less of an off-site threat, or to modified hydrofluoric acid, which reduces the severity of the consequences of an accidental release. TexPIRG pointed to the Valero Energy Corporation, near Los Angeles, which recently agreed to switch to modified hydrofluoric acid in response to public pressure after a 1987 accident. TexPIRG called on BP to immediately switch to modified hydrofluoric acid.
TexPIRG also urged the Bush administration to use EPA’s existing authority under the Clean Air Act to mandate that refineries and chemical facilities substitute safer chemicals and processes where possible. Barring such action from the Bush administration, TexPIRG urged Congress to pass legislation to be introduced by Senator Corzine (NJ) that would require facilities to consider changing their chemicals and processes where available. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston co-sponsored similar legislation last session that would vastly improve safety at chemical facilities in the greater Houston area.
TexPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.