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PT Notes

EPA RFI - Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis

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On July 24, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a Request for Information (RFI) seeking comments on potential revisions to its Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations and related programs to modernize its regulations. Multiple issues were addressed in the RFI.

One of the issues addresses safer technology and alternatives, i.e. risk reduction strategies developed through an analysis using a hierarchy of controls. EPA recognizes the importance of considering safer technology and alternatives that may result in improved process safety. EPA's historical approach to safer technology and alternatives under the Clean Air Act (CAA) Section 112(r) has encouraged chemical plant operators to introduce safer technology and alternatives to help reduce the overall risk of their facilities but has not mandated their use or analysis. Choosing between options for process design involves considering a series of tradeoffs and developing appropriate combinations of inherent, passive, active, and procedural safety systems to manage all hazards.

EPA is planning the following steps to advance safer technologies and alternatives:

  • Publishing a joint alert with OSHA illustrating the concepts and principles of safer technology and alternatives and providing examples to make industry more aware of this information, while providing sources of information for further investigation and review.
  • Publishing a voluntary guidance document with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for operators on how to reduce risks by employing safer technology and alternatives, by offering a more thorough examination of alternative measures and safety techniques, including examples of safer technology and alternatives or practices.
  • Based on the evaluation of feedback from the alert, guidance, and this RFI, EPA will consider proposing an amendment to the RMP regulations that requires:
    • An analysis and documentation of safer technologies and alternatives.
    • Integration of the safer technologies and alternatives analysis into process hazard analysis (PHA).
    • Implementation of safer technologies and alternatives where feasible. EPA would not make any determination regarding the specific analysis, technology, design, or process selection by chemical facility owners or operators.

Questions posed by EPA on this issue include:

  1. Should EPA require a safer alternatives options analysis either as a new prevention program element, as part of the existing PHA/Hazard Review element, or as a separate new requirement under CAA Section 112(r)?
  2. How should safer alternatives be defined if it were to be a requirement under CAA Section 112(r) regulations? What specifically should a safer alternatives analysis require and how would this differ from what is already required under other provisions of the RMP?
  3. How should industries determine if a safer alternative exists for their particular process? What safer alternative chemicals are available for the listed RMP chemicals and for ammonium nitrate?
  4. What should facilities consider when determining if such technologies, when identified, are effective, available, and economically justified for their particular process or facility? Can the RMP national database, Lessons Learned Information System, or other federal databases be structured to promote the exchange of information on potentially safer technologies both within industry and with other stakeholders?
  5. If EPA were to require facilities to undertake an evaluation of the potential to incorporate safer alternatives, what minimum criteria should this evaluation be required to meet? How would the evaluation determine if a particular alternative is feasible, cost effective and results in less risk? What requirements or incentives, if any, should there be for implementation of identified safer alternatives? How should any such requirements be structured and enforced?
  6. Should EPA require facilities to use a safer alternatives evaluation method such as the Inherently Safer Technology Checklist from the Center for Chemical Process Safety?
  7. How should EPA and facilities address the risk tradeoffs that could result when changing a process to incorporate safer alternatives?
  8. Should EPA consider requirements similar to those used by the State of New Jersey or Contra Costa County in California, and, if so, why? What have been the benefits of such programs in risk reduction or process safety for the facilities covered under these requirements? What have been the limitations or drawbacks of these programs?
  9. If EPA were to develop regulatory requirements for safer alternatives, which facilities should be subject to those requirements? Should all RMP facilities be subject to such requirements, or only "high risk" facilities, such as refineries and large chemical plants? How would "high risk" be defined? Are there particular processes or chemicals that should be targeted or prioritized for implementation of such requirements?
  10. What barriers exist for industry to adopt safer alternatives? What incentives can be used by government to have facilities implement safer alternatives? Should EPA provide special recognition to companies that implement safer alternatives?
  11. What other options exist, besides regulatory requirements, to encourage facilities to investigate, develop or implement safer alternatives and how can EPA further these efforts?
  12. If RMP facilities are required to perform safer alternative options analyses and implementation plans, should EPA require that the analyses and/or implementation plans be submitted to EPA? Should EPA have any role in approving such analyses or plans? In lieu of an approval, can EPA promote safer alternatives through reporting and the dissemination of information on potentially applicable practices?
  13. If RMP facilities are required to consider safer alternative options, what role should local communities have in these analyses? Should facilities be required to disclose these analyses or recommendations resulting from such analyses to local authorities or the public prior to the selection of options? Are there any other disclosure options that will ensure that decisions on implementing safer technologies are made with transparency? Are there any means of oversight, other than disclosure, that would ensure safer alternatives analyses are thorough and implementation decisions are appropriate?
  14. What would be the economic impacts of requiring facilities to analyze safer alternative options? Are there any special circumstances involving small entities that EPA should consider?

Further details on this issue are provided in EPA's RFI which can be accessed by clicking here.

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