WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government on Friday vowed to take a stronger role in protecting chemical-industry workers and local residents from accidents and explosions at chemical plants in the aftermath of a deadly April 2013 explosion in Texas.
The steps include more safeguards around chemical plants, improved first-responder training and emergency-preparedness measures, and computer upgrades at the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Chemicals are an essential part of our economy and can improve the life, health and well-being of people across our nation. However, the handling and storage of chemicals at facilities can present safety and security risks that must be addressed," said an inter-agency group in a report to President Barack Obama.
The Interagency Working Group on Chemical Facility Safety and Security was set up as a result of the April 2013 explosion in West, Texas that killed 14 people and leveled an entire neighborhood.
The working group was composed of representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Homeland Security and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
Among their recommendations:
—Improve coordination with state, local governments and Indian tribes where appropriate.
—Modernize policies and regulations.
—Improve data management.
The report noted that the working group had already set up a pilot program in the New York-New Jersey area "to serve as a test-bed, confirming lessons learned...and developing novel solutions to address safety and security challenges."
"Chemicals are an essential part of our economy and can improve the life, health and well-being of people across our nation," the group said in its report. "However, the handling and storage of chemicals at facilities can present safety and security risks that must be addressed."
"It's clear that the Working Group listened to the voices of the communities and workers most at risk of chemical disasters. There are recommendations in their report that can help prevent disasters if they are enacted," said Richard Moore, co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. "But words are not enough. The administration now has to turn these words into actions — into regulations that are adopted within the next 18 months."