Large chemical companies and their major trade association and lobbying arm, the American Chemistry Council, say they can maintain high safety standards through self-regulation and voluntary actions. Our report finds this isn't the case. Voluntary standards don’t work, and existing regulations are not effectively enforced.
Chemical manufacturing uses dangerous substances that can be hazardous to the health and well-being of chemical plant workers and to the residents who live nearby.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and leaders in the chemical industry have fought stronger government oversight of chemical manufacturing for decades, arguing that the rules currently regulating toxic chemicals are adequate.
The ACC runs a program called "Responsible Care®" that purportedly helps member companies meet safety and environmental standards and implement industry best practices. So, is it working? Are these companies representing “the best of the best” in the chemical industry?
Our report found that facilities owned by ACC member companies are leaders – in violating our nation’s environmental and workplace safety standards.
While examining workplace safety and environmental violations, we looked at 12 large companies in the chemical industry that collectively own and operate 644 facilities in the U.S. Seven of these companies (DuPont, Arkema, Mitsubishi, Honeywell, BASF, Dow, and Chemtura) are members of the industry’s main trade association, the ACC.
While the ACC claims their member companies are meeting safety standards, we found serious violations at these seven ACC member-companies. DuPont topped the list with 125 serious violations at the plants they own. Additionally, 78 serious violations were found at Arkema's inspected plants.
We mapped out where violations have been reported at the facilities these 12 companies own. View our map.
The violations provide just a sampling of the overall shortcomings of our current regulatory enforcement system.
Only 42 percent of active facilities manufacturing chemicals were inspected in a three to five year period. Of those that were inspected, serious workplace safety and environmental violations were found at 25 percent of them.
This demonstrates that we need to strengthen enforcement of our nation's existing chemical safety policies and require the use of safer substances and manufacturing processes.
- Too few chemicals have been tested for safety. Of the 84,000 chemicals registered for commercial use today, government agencies have tested only 250 and restricted the use of only nine.
- Too few chemical manufacturing facilities are inspected. Just 42 percent of our nation’s active chemical manufacturing plants have been inspected in the last three to five years.
- The resources of our state and local enforcement agencies are being reduced, even though the number of older production facilities is growing, increasing their risk to workers and communities. EPA and OSHA have had their enforcement budgets cut by 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively, since 2010.
- When serious violations are identified, the penalties are too small. Even when a worker is killed on the job, the maximum fine OSHA can impose on a facility is $70,000 per violation. In FY 2014, the average fine following a worker's death was just above $5,000, a small cost of doing business for chemical companies that make billions in profits.
"Every two days, there is a reportable leak or explosion at a U.S. chemical plant, but the chemical industry keeps telling us companies can regulate themselves and no new oversight is needed."
Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government
- Require companies to shift to safer chemicals and technologies.
- Expand the number of facilities regularly inspected. EPA and OSHA have experienced cuts to their enforcement budgets in recent years and need more resources.
- Significantly increase the financial and criminal penalties for violating safety and environmental standards to create a real deterrent for risky corporate behavior.
- Make more information accessible to workers, residents, and citizen groups in order to hold the owners of risky facilities more accountable to ordinary American workers and consumers.
Read our letter to the American Chemistry Council. And here is their response.
Our Full Report