Sep 22, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Some chemical accidents are reported too late

Reported accidents at registered RMP facilities
Data: EPA, The Data Liberation Project; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Chemical accidents at facilities with a risk management plan are supposed to be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency within six months, But public records indicate that's not always happening.

Why it matters: The number of accidents per year is steadily declining. But delayed reporting can produce an inaccurate picture of how safe the U.S.' chemical-storage infrastructure truly is.

Details: Facilities that store a certain amount of certain potentially harmful chemicals must submit a risk management plan to the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Those plans detail what the effects of an accident would be; what the companies are doing to prevent them; and an emergency response plan if an accident does occur. They're updated every five years.
  • If an accident occurs at one of those facilities, the company is supposed to notify the EPA within six months. But critics say some companies don't offer a full accounting until they update their risk management plans — meaning some accidents aren't disclosed until years after they occurred.

By the numbers: The United Auto Workers union laid out reporting issues in recent comments to the EPA.

  • The UAW tried to determine how many chemical accidents there were in 2013. If you checked the totals in early 2015, according to the UAW, you'd find that there were 123 accidents in 2013.
  • But if you checked again in 2021, you'd find 164 reported accidents in 2013. That's a 33% increase in the total number of reported accidents, 8 years after they occurred.
  • The UAW's analysis found similar, but smaller, discrepancies in other years.

Axios conducted a similar analysis, using the same data, and found similar results.

  • We looked at the total number of accidents reported between 2017 and 2021.
  • In February of this year, the EPA's records said there had been 566 such accidents. When a new data set was released five months later, that figure had risen by about 12%, to 636 reported accidents.

Go deeper:

Go deeper