Research Group Says 5 Million Pennsylvanians Live Near High Risk Chemical Plant

Aug 9, 2013

The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) released a report Thursday saying more than 5 million Pennsylvanians live near what the group calls a “high risk” chemical plant.

Representatives from the group gathered across from Union Station in downtown Pittsburgh to call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop the use of toxic chemicals and impose stronger transportation safety requirements.

Mary Kate Ranii, a canvass director for PennPIRG, said government needs to do a better job of protecting the public from harmful chemicals.

“These toxics are transported every day on our highways and railroads,” Ranii said. “This is really putting Pennsylvanians at risk, and we’re asking the EPA, we’re asking our federal officials to take action to keep us safe.”

There are two high risk chemical plants around Pittsburgh, according to the group. In the event of a spill, the Univar Plant in Allegheny County or the James Austen Plant in Butler County, could put more than 900,000 people at risk of injury.

Ranii said chemicals like vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC piping and plastic kitchenware, can have serious harmful effects on the human body.

“There are lots of issues involving respiratory damage, there are carcinogenic effects, there’s eye damage — it’s countless,” Ranii said. “Some of these chemicals are highly corrosive to the skin if they were ever to be touched or in our drinking water.”

The research comes as a result of a toxic chemical spill that occurred just outside Pennsylvania last year.

In November, a train derailed, spilling more than 30,000 pounds of vinyl chloride in Paulsboro, NJ — 10 miles from Philadelphia. The entire town was evacuated and 71 people were treated at the hospital for chemical related injuries.

On Aug. 1 of this year, President Obama signed an executive order to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities across the nation. The order specifically calls for improved coordination among state and local agencies to “modernize policies, regulations and standards.”

“The EPA needs to listen to President Obama, they need to listen to the Clean Air Act — the general disclosure clause — to phase out the most danger chemicals when safer alternatives do exist,” Ranii said. “They need to enforce that.”