A chemical disaster occurred almost every day in 2023

Our friends at Heated, an online newsletter for “people pissed off about the climate crisis,” have some staggering news. They found that a chemical disaster occurred nearly every day last year in the U.S.

There were at least 322 hazardous chemical incidents in the U.S. in 2023, Heated found after consulting data from the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters. The incident rate is up 70 percent over 2022. Of the total, 138 of the incidents caused injuries, evacuations, a shelter-in-place order or death. 

“Put another way,” Heated reported, “a chemical incident caused serious consequences in the U.S. about once every two-and-a-half days in 2023.”

According to Heated, the incidents break down like this:

  • Most involved fossil fuels, or products derived from them. Some 47 happened onsite at oil and gas extraction sites, while 83 happened at manufacturing locations.
  • Another 48 chemical incidents occurred in transport. The most infamous among them was the East Palestine train derailment.
  • At least 39 chemical incidents occurred at food and beverage storage facilities, largely due to ammonia leakage, a petrochemical responsible for approximately 1 to 2 percent of global carbon emissions.

Lives were lost, too. At least 18 people died in chemical incidents last year, Heated found.

“Lives claimed by petrochemical disasters in 2023 include a 25-year-old Illinois wrestling coach who was killed by an asphalt tank explosion; an Illinois father and his two young children who were killed by ammonia exposure after a semitruck derailed; and a 55-year-old father who was ‘burned alive’ after a ‘petrochemical event’ at the Marathon Petroleum refinery he worked at, according to a lawsuit filed by his family,” the newsletter reported.

As heartbreaking as it is to review, it’s important we have this data. The oil, gas and chemical industries routinely minimize the harm caused by toxics and the damage they do to communities.

Deidre Helms, the communications manager at environmental justice nonprofit Coming Clean, which helps manage the database where Heated sourced its information, said the chemical industry usually claims “incidents at hazardous facilities are isolated events.”

“But our data show that fires, explosions and releases involving hazardous chemicals are happening on a near daily basis,” she told Heated.

The scarier part of the data is it’s likely an underestimate. The database Heated used only tallies disasters that were reported by the media. According to Helms, that’s because government data on incidents is “very delayed, limited, and hard to find.”

Meanwhile, there are efforts to address the issues. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finalize the Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention rule this year, which would bolster safety and prevention requirements for the chemical industry. In fact, a group of Democratic lawmakers have called for the rule to be strengthened, particularly to include considerations for workers and climate disaster risk. Republicans, on the other hand, are calling for the weakening of the rule, citing “economic challenges and operational burdens” for the private sector. 

According to Heated, “That rule is expected to be finalized in August—by which time the U.S. will have experienced another 200 hazardous chemical incidents; at least if the 2023 rate continues apace.”

RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.