Schumer urges EPA to simplify hazardous materials reporting
The Environmental Protection Agency needs to take charge in ensuring that first responders have up-to-date information on hazardous chemicals in fighting industrial fires, according to Sen. Charles Schumer.
In a press conference on Thursday at the Erie County Fire Training Center in Cheektowaga, the senior U.S. senator from New York said required reporting of hazardous materials is lacking and presents a serious threat to first responders and communities.
“In the past year, fires have sparked across Western New York,” Schumer said, referring to July blazes at Niagara Lubricant and Goldman Titanium in Buffalo. “They leave destruction, headaches and endless questions in their wake. Needless to say, this is a hot issue in Western New York.”
Schumer is calling on the EPA to simplify the reporting so that businesses are better able to comply and fire companies have advanced knowledge of what materials are on hand and where they are located in the facility. A streamlined process, he says, will benefit everyone involved.
“We want to extinguish this mess once and for all by having a clear, concise, easy-to-report, easy-to-read, easy-to-use system of what hazardous materials are in what buildings,” he said. “With computers, this is easy to do. This is not costly to do. We just ought to do it.”
Legislation was put on the books decades ago to require facilities to submit inventories of hazardous materials, Schumer said. But the problem is that it’s too complicated with tier-one and tier-two forms. He claimed businesses don’t know which form to fill out, or how to properly submit it.
That leaves first responders in the dark on what challenges lie in wait during an emergency. It also prevents emergency personnel from forming the proper attack plan.
“They shouldn’t be forced to fight the flames without a full list of all the potential hazardous chemicals on site, because you fight a fire in different ways depending on what type of hazardous material is there,” Schumer said. “And we want them to know where the chemicals are in the facility.”
He added that it is crucial to know if residents in nearby neighborhoods need to be evacuated or if they should remain indoors during an industrial fire.
Schumer pointed to the Niagara Lubricant fire, which lasted 17 hours, as an example of how communities could be in danger from toxins.
“Results from air tests performed during the four-alarm fire have determined that the benzene levels in the air were 10 times higher than the EPA safe, short-term exposure level,” he said.
The fire at Goldman Titanium, which burned for 23 hours and could be seen from Cheektowaga, also sent toxic fumes and gases into the air.
Schumer suggested the EPA could hold a seminar each year for industrial businesses to walk them through reporting requirements. It could also post the new simplified forms online.
“At the end of the day, we need three things: transparency, so our first responders know what hazardous materials are in a factory and where; compliance, so that our businesses are able to easily give our first responders the information they need; and coordination between EPA, businesses and first responders so that the process is simple and safe,” Schumer said.
The senator added that he has talked with representatives from the EPA and that they understand there is a complication with the reporting and that it needs to be addressed. He said he expects these changes could be made in a matter of months.