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New Report Finds Chemical Industry Is “Blowing Smoke” When It Claims Self-Regulation Works

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For Immediate Release

Contact: Sabrina E. Williams, 202/683-4883, [email protected]


New Report Finds Chemical Industry Is “Blowing Smoke”  When It Claims Self-Regulation Works

Seven “Responsible Care®” Program Companies – including Six Profitable American Chemistry Council Board Members – Own and Operate Facilities with Multiple Serious Violations of Worker Safety and Environmental Rules


WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2015—In a new report and interactive map released today, Blowing Smoke, the Center for Effective Government finds that a significant number of chemical manufacturing facilities are endangering workers and our environment, despite what the chemical industry tells policymakers, regulators, and the American public.

“Every two days, there is a reportable leak or explosion at a U.S. chemical plant,” said Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government. “But the chemical industry keeps telling us companies can regulate themselves and no new oversight is needed.”

The chemical industry spends tens of millions of dollars a year fighting bills and standards designed to better protect the workers in their facilities and the communities nearby. For more than a quarter century, the industry’s trade association, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), has operated a voluntary program that it claims can improve industry performance and safety without new requirements to shift to safer substances and production processes when they are available.

New data, compiled and analyzed by the Center for Effective Government (CEG), calls these industry promises into question. In Blowing Smoke: Chemical Companies Say “Trust Us,” But Environmental and Workplace Safety Violations Belie their Rhetoric, CEG looks critically at enforcement data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The data was prepared in coordination with the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.

The report identifies four problems with our nation’s system of regulating chemicals:

  • 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. A quarter of the chemical manufacturing facilities that were inspected had serious environmental or workplace safety violations.
  • 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.
  • Companies and facilities are inadequately penalized when violations are identified. 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.

This weak regulatory system puts workers and nearby communities at risk. We found 1,483 chemical manufacturing facilities with serious workplace or environmental violations in the past three to five years operating in communities in almost every state; 64 of these facilities had more than 20 serious violations each. (See our map to see if one of these worst offenders is near you). In fact, seven manufacturing facilities had more than 50 serious violations each. 

Twelve large chemical companies own 89 chemical manufacturing facilities with multiple serious workplace safety and environmental violations; together, they were responsible for 644 serious violations of workplace or environmental rules. (58 percent of manufacturing facilities were not inspected during this time, so these numbers are very likely an undercount of actual violations.)

Seven members of the American Chemistry Council, including six of its board members (DuPont, Dow Chemical, Honeywell International, BASF, Chemtura, and Arkema) were among the dozen companies. One hundred twenty-five serious violations were found at the inspected plants owned by DuPont, 78 at Arkema’s inspected plants, and 49 at Mitsubishi’s inspected plants. Each of these companies is an ACC member, and as such is supposed to operate facilities according to Responsible Care® guidelines.

“The Responsible Care® program at the ACC is not working. Self-regulation leaves workers and communities at risk,” said Brian Gumm, author of the report and senior policy analyst with CEG. “The environmental and workplace safety violations at these facilities are clear evidence that we need to strengthen enforcement of our nation’s existing chemical safety policies and require the use of safer substances and manufacturing processes to reduce the risks of harm to American workers and people in communities near these plants.”

CEG recommends four solutions:

  • Require all companies to shift to safer chemicals and technologies. The best and most effective way for EPA and OSHA to prevent injuries, deaths, and chemical disasters is to require chemical companies and facilities to switch to inherently safer chemicals and technologies when they are available.
  • Expand the number of chemical manufacturing facilities that are regularly inspected.
  • 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 more accessible and available to workers, residents, and citizen groups in order to hold the owners of risky facilities more accountable to ordinary American workers and consumers.

The report and interactive map are available at Look for the release of a new database, the Violation Tracker, from Good Jobs First next week.


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