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Environmentalists Say Clean Air Reform Must Answer Toxic Accidents

June 23, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An environmental coalition is warning that the Bush administration’s clean air proposals would not deal with the ″frequent and pervasive″ accidental releases of toxic chemicals at industrial plants.

″Chemical accident prevention has not yet become national policy,″ Gerald V. Poje of the National Clean Air Coalition told the House Energy and Commerce environment subcommittee Thursday.

Testimony before the subcommittee focused on the 2.7 billion pounds of toxic chemicals released into the air each year, including 360 million pounds of cancer-causing substances.

President Bush has proposed legislation to regulate airborne toxic chemicals as part of his comprehensive clean air package. Two other versions have been introduced in the House and another has been proposed in the Senate.

Neither Bush’s language nor a bill introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, D-Mich., include provisions on accidental spills.

A version introduced by Reps. Mickey Leland, D-Texas and Guy Molinari, R- N.Y., backed by environmental groups and their congressional backers, would deal with the problem. So would the Senate bill, introduced by key members of the Senate Environment Committee.

The Leland-Molinari legislation would require the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a list of substances most likely to endanger the public through accidental releases to the air, and force the agency to issue regulations to prevent such releases. The Senate bill has similar language.

Robert C. Forney, a Du Pont Co. executive testifying for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, said the chemical industry opposed new legislation on accidental releases because ″a great deal has been done by industry″ to prevent accidents, and ″we don’t believe additional legislation is required.″

″I find it difficult to understand that position,″ said subcommittee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., who cited Environmental Protection Agency figures showing there were more than 4,700 accidental releases between 1980 and 1987. The 120 most serious releases killed 145 people, injured more than 5,000, and caused nearly 250,000 to evacuate their homes, Waxman said.

Poje said, ″Chemical accidents at industrial facilities are frequent and pervasive problems. While individual impacted facilities and communities may learn important lessons from an accident and thereby improve safety consciousness, it is by no means guaranteed under the present system.″

Industrial facilities and communities ″are unprepared to understand and respond to the consequences of chemical accidents,″ he said.

Forney also said the nation’s chemical manufacturers have reversed their previous opposition, and now support legislation to control airborne toxic chemicals as part of new clean air proposals.

″We intend to be a constructive player in the legislative process,″ he said.

Forney said the chemical industry’s trade group previously believed new legislation was unnecessary, but has now concluded the Environmental Protection Agency ″cannot adequately regulate air emissions under the existing law.″

EPA now regulates only seven of the more than 200 toxic chemicals released into the air.

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