Chemical Accident Safety:

EPA's Responsibilities for Preparedness, Response, and Prevention

PEMD-96-3: Published: Jun 27, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 1996.

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GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) role in implementing a national chemical accident safety policy, focusing on: (1) trends in chemical accident occurrence and impact; (2) EPA chemical accident preparedness activities; (3) the effectiveness of EPA response to chemical accidents; and (4) EPA actions to help prevent chemical accidents.

GAO found that: (1) although chemical accidents may be increasing, there is no clear evidence on accident trends; (2) accident data are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate; (3) EPA has vigorous programs for accident preparedness and response, but legislation has caused EPA to shift its primary focus to chemical accident prevention; (4) EPA assists in developing industry, state, and local accident preparedness programs, but those programs often fail to inform the public of potential accident risks; (5) EPA is using several sources, including the Internet, to disseminate accident data; (6) EPA is required to assess the nature and seriousness of chemical accidents and take charge of response operations if the responsible party or state and local officials cannot handle the incident and coordinate other agencies' direct response efforts; (7) local authorities rely heavily on EPA for accident assessments, since they often do not have the training or resources to perform initial assessments; (8) EPA has collaborated with industry and professional associations to further understand safety management issues; (9) EPA has issued regulations requiring facilities to develop and implement risk management plans, including emergency response programs; (10) EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board have delineated their responsibilities to investigate chemical accidents; and (11) although EPA has developed a large repository of information on accident prevention issues, the information is not being utilized at the community and industry level.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency made no specific changes, but believes it already was developing programs to share "lessons learned," which it will continue.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should initiate improvements in prevention activities by increasing the extent to which the "lessons learned" from risk management planning efforts are conveyed to industry, state and local government, and the public.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency made no specific changes, but believes the new accident prevention programs at OSHA and EPA will have the intended effect.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should work with industry, state and local government, and the public to stress the importance of how this information can be used to facilitate the prevention of accidents.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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