Chemical Leak in Ohio Demonstrates the Importance of EPCRA Compliance
Over the past century, many different chemicals have proven to be extremely helpful to progress and innovation. Today, chemicals can be found in everything from food and beverages to consumer packaged goods. However, some helpful chemicals are also extremely dangerous and can be fatal to humans if they are not handled properly. The dangers are further compounded when laboratories and companies do not comply with the existing Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act(EPCRA) by providing first responders with information regarding the chemicals stored on site so that they may be better prepared for an emergency.
A recent incident in Ohio illustrates the potential danger of noncompliance. On October 31, 2014, workers at the Glatfelter paper plant in central Ohio were performing routine maintenance to the systems and machinery in the plant. Unfortunately, something went wrong and the ventilation system failed. This resulted in the release of sulfur compounds into the air. Fortunately, the leak was benign. People within a one mile radius may have suffered some nausea or experienced a sore throat or watery eyes, but luckily nothing more harmful. Those further away were hit by a foul smell that apparently hung around for a while, but no further health problems were recorded.
Shortly after the leak, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated the incident. They also reviewed the company’s compliance with other laws such as the EPCRA. EPCRA established the requirement to inform first responders such as firefighters and emergency rooms of the chemicals that are stored on site so that they might respond accordingly. Unfortunately, the EPA found the company non-compliant with this law.
The paper plant in central Ohio is probably not the only business or laboratory that is in violation of EPCRA. In fact, I would not be surprised if a large percentage of all laboratories using or storing potentially dangerous chemicals on site have not met with their local first responders and shared with them pertinent information regarding specific items.
Although it’s purely speculation, I believe that the main reason for the lack of coordination is probably because it can be difficult for a laboratory to track their on-site chemicals, particularly if they are tracking by hand. Chemical inventories are dynamic and constantly changing depending upon the needs of laboratory personnel. Staying on top of a fluctuating chemical inventory can only be accomplished easily and efficiently with a best practices chemical management system.
The benefits of a chemical management system include the ability to tag chemicals as they arrive and track them by storage location using unique barcodes. The system can store information regarding the toxicity of a chemical and how it should be properly handled. Also, chemical management systems are specifically designed to reduce the cost of compliance through automation. The systems can be used to easily generate reports for compliance purposes, as well as reports that can be provided to first responders so that they are aware of vital information should a leak or accident occur.
There is no valid reason why a paper company, a laboratory or any other company should be non-compliant with the EPCRA. First responders need to be informed of the chemicals stored on site so that they can be properly prepared. It would be unfortunate if it takes more incidents such as that in Ohio to occur before more companies reach compliance.
For more information regarding how a chemical management system like BIOVIA CISPro can help your laboratory become EPCRA-compliant, please visit our website today.