N.J. Implements Expanded Safety Rules for Chemical Plants

By | March 20, 2007

Chemical facilities in New Jersey using extremely hazardous substances must weigh using safer options and plant workers can now join state inspections under new state policies to improve safety and security at the facilities.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine announced the new policies last Friday at a state police homeland security facility.

The new regulations were quickly praised by the New Jersey Work Environment Council, an alliance of labor, environmental and community organizations that has advocated for chemical safety and hometown security protections.

“Gov. Corzine is taking critical steps forward to protect workers, communities and the environment,” said WEC Director Rick Engler.

The new policies:

Expand an existing requirement that facilities using extremely hazardous substances evaluate options for safer technology, including substituting safer chemicals, redesigning processing and using safer operating pressures and temperatures.

Current requirements apply to 42 state chemical plants. The new rules would cover 94 facilities, including oil refineries, water suppliers, wastewater treatment plants, paper mills, and major food distributors that use large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, the WEC said.

Require labor and management to devise new worker training policies.

Encourage workers and their local unions to participate during state Department of Environmental Protection facility inspections.

“Workers are the first line of defense against a chemical disaster,” said John Pajak, WEC President, an employee of a ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Linden and member of Teamsters Local 877. “Front line workers have the knowledge and experience to identify safety and security risks and would be the first to respond to a disaster.”

Corzine has long been concerned about chemical security, even as a U.S. senator from 2001 through January 2006.

He recently said he’s prepared to file a lawsuit against the federal government if the Bush administration pre-empts New Jersey’s chemical security laws with new federal regulations.

Among steps the Garden State has taken are vulnerability studies at scores of plants, better physical and electronic monitoring of perimeter areas, and so-called “target hardening” of facilities — building stronger barriers restricting ground-level access.

The WEC has previously said millions of people in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are at risk from a terrorist attack or accident at chemical plants in the Garden State.

The group contends a terrorist attack or accident at one of New Jersey’s 110 chemical or industrial facilities could have potentially catastrophic consequences.

A WEC report estimated a release of chlorine at a Kearny facility could endanger up to 12 million people, while a similar plant in South Jersey along the Delaware River could send deadly gas into downtown Philadelphia.

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