Executive Order Calls for Improved Chemical Facility Safety
President Barack Obama issued an executive order on August 1 that directed the federal government to work toward the improvement of safety and security conditions at chemical plants across the country. The order comes in response to a number of explosions and other accidents at chemical plants.
The executive order mentions the Texas fertilizer plant explosion earlier this year that killed 15 people. It states that the disaster was a stark reminder of the need to boost safety at chemical plants and address the very serious workplace risks that unsafe chemical storage can pose.
The executive order, however, is only the first step toward improved safety at chemical plants, and critics are calling for additional regulatory action. Recently, the Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, criticized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for its “unacceptable” responses to a number of long-standing board recommendations for new safety rules. The recommendations included covering atmospheric storage tanks that could be a potential risk for catastrophic toxic release.
What’s more, the Occupational Safety and Health and Administration is dealing with funding issues that must be addressed, so the agency is better equipped to improve chemical plant safety.
In modern industrial society, chemicals are widely used and transported as elements, compounds, mixtures, solutions, and emulsions. Besides being used in schools, universities, and other training facilities, they are also commonly used in domestic situations, such as for cleaning, gardening, and DIY. Some chemicals, however, should not be mixed or in contact with others because they can produce byproducts that are toxic, carcinogenic, explosive, etc., or can be dangerous themselves. Chemists need to maintain safety to avoid disasters and other types of chemical mishaps.
Policies, procedures, and practices related to chemical safety are designed to minimize the risk of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. Policies, procedures, and practices related to chemical safety are designed to minimize the risk of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.
In 2016, 45 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost due to contact with hazardous chemicals, a significant increase from 2012.
Many chemicals become more hazardous when mixed with other chemicals, heated, or handled improperly. If an accident occurs in a chemically safe environment, users are able to take appropriate action.
Chemicals used in industry and research have a variety of properties that make them hazardous. Among them are explosiveness, flammability, toxicity, carcinogenicity, and teratogenicity. In addition, they may emit radiation and exist at high or low temperatures, increasing their risk of burning or freezing. Strong acids and alkalis can cause chemical burning. Chemicals and mixtures can exhibit several of these properties.
Toxic materials can be solids in powdered or finely divided form, liquids, or gases. Any of these materials may be absorbed by inhalation, direct contact with the skin, or mucous membranes in the nose or eyes. Some chemicals can remain toxic in the body for a substantial period of time. For example, Mercury, arsenic, dioxins, and many organic solvents can be stored in fat cells.
Risks associated with the environment can be difficult to evaluate and may take years to manifest. It took the combined investigative powers of scientists around the world to fully understand the risk that CFCs posed to the Earth’s ozone layer.
Despite the seriousness of the effects of persistent halogenated organics on marine food chains, some of these chemicals are becoming concentrated in the fatty deposits of top predators, affecting their reproductive success.
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