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Georgia Chemical Plant Injuries Follow Presidential Calls for Change

Three workers suffered serious injuries following a Georgia chemical plant blast at a facility in Valdosta. The facility is responsible for processing and disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
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The incident came just two weeks after President Barack Obama called for sweeping chemical plant safety reforms in the form of tighter federal regulation.

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys understand the call for change was prompted by the disastrous chemical plant explosion at a Texas fertilizer facility, which resulted in 15 deaths.

Nationwide, there are some 2,500 facilities that produce, use or store toxic chemicals. At risk when problems arise are not only the tens of thousands of workers, but also the millions who live and work in close proximity to these sites.

What Obama has specifically requested is that federal agencies work together to not only update regulations and safety protocol, but also to coordinate policies that will allow different regulators to share information with one another, as well as state and local governments.

For example, if an inspection by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reveals some potential danger at a chemical plant, that is something about which local emergency responders should be made aware, in the event a fast response to an incident is required. Similarly, it could be something that the Environmental Protection Agency may need to know about, as potential worker safety violations might also overlap with environmental safety concern for those living nearby.

There are also substances that should be of specific concern to regulators and safety officials. One of the most obvious is ammonium nitrate. This is the same substance that was used in the Oklahoma City bombing in the 1990s, and it was also identified as the hazardous material that caused the Texas explosion. Despite it’s volatile history, there are no EPA requirements mandating that facilities storing large quantities of the chemical report plans for how it is being handled, as is required for a number of other potentially dangerous chemicals.

In Obama’s executive order, the president set clear deadlines for certain action to be taken. For example, within 90 days of the order, the President expects that the Secretaries of Labor, Homeland Security and Agriculture will develop a list of potential and regulatory proposals to improve and secure the safe storage, handling and sale of ammonium nitrate. He also expects that a list of chemicals of interest be identified by the Secretary of Homeland Security. A working group comprised of various federal agencies is also charged with convening a list of stakeholders, including chemical producers, storage firms, agricultural supply firms, state and local regulators, first responders, environmental groups and labor organizations to help develop a policy for best practices to reduce safety risks.

In the recent incident in Valdosta, the plant is responsible for processing and disposing of chemicals like chloroform, arsenic, vinyl chloride, methyl ethyl ketone and benzene. The seriousness of the series of explosions was heightened by the fact that officials weren’t initially able to shut off gas in the area, meaning that neighboring businesses and residents with underground gas tanks were also at potential risk. Everyone in a one-mile radius was evacuated.

Firefighters battling the blaze reported severe respiratory issues.

Officials are still investigating the incident. A company official has said that the company was “operating normally” at the time of the incident. No official cause has been released.

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.

Additional Resources:
Mr. Obama Moves on Chemical Plant Safety, Aug. 1, 2013, Opinion, Editorial Board, New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Georgia Companies Accused of Unsafe Work Practices, July 30, 2013, Georgia Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog