Home > Uncategorized > NJ Gov. Murphy Will Let You See Chemical “Kill Zone” Maps In A “Reading Room”

NJ Gov. Murphy Will Let You See Chemical “Kill Zone” Maps In A “Reading Room”

Murphy’s Executive Order Designed To Avoid Real Reforms On Chemical Safety

Poorly Trained And Equipped Local Governments Remain In Charge of Chemical Safety

No New Chemical Plant Siting, Regulatory Standards, Or Protections

Massive Loopholes In NJ Chemical Safety Laws Remain

"Kill Zone" Map

“Kill Zone” Map – Paulsboro, NJ Toxic Train derailment

Or maybe seconds from annihilation, yeah

But no one stopped to think about the people

Or just how they would survive ….

when it come to people’s safety

money wins out every time. ~~~ We Almost Lost Detroit (Gil Scott-Heron)

In a lame response to the Passaic chemical fire disaster, NJ Gov.Murphy issued another toothless Executive Order #284.

The Gov.’s Executive Order attempts to breathe life into a failed 35 year old Executive Order issued way back in 1987 by Gov. Tom Kean that abdicated State authority and delegated chemical plant safety and emergency response planning to local governments.

As I’ve written, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) severely criticized NJ’s “home rule” approach to chemical plant safety and the dissemination of inaccurate and false information in the Paulsboro NJ toxic train derailment that forced community evacuation.

The NTSB made the following findings in a scathingly critical Report:

  • About 7:30 a.m., police radio transmissions suggested that the vapor cloud was “nontoxic.”  The police then changed the evacuation orders from mandatory evacuation to shelter-in-place. The police department did not become aware that vinyl chloride had been released until 8:30 a.m., just before the first incident command briefing. The situation was further confused when, at 10:30 a.m., the NJDEP publically (sic) announced that the hazard had dissipated. Therefore, the community protective measures were based on incorrect information about the released material.
  • The NTSB concludes that the dissemination of inaccurate public information about the release of vinyl chloride revealed the lack of an effective system for communicating to the public accurate information about the current situation following the accident.  (@ page 41
  • These statistics indicate that many communities in the state still do not have NJSP-OEM-approved EOPs and that these communities are likely unprepared for emergencies that could occur in their jurisdictions, as was the Paulsboro community. This problem is  amplified by New Jersey home rule laws that keep authority for managing an incident at the lowest local government level, thus discouraging regional and state authorities from intervening in an incident, even when faced with obvious response deficiencies;
  • Fact-based decisions regarding the community exposure did not occur until the unified command was established at 1:00 p.m., when the federal on-scene coordinator directed more information to be gathered about community exposures. (@ p.42
  • Like many small fire departments throughout the country, the Paulsboro Fire Department was unprepared for large-scale hazardous material emergency responses. The frequency of hazardous materials train traffic through the borough would have suggested a higher level of awareness and preparedness. The firefighters need to understand how to respond to incidents involving such hazards and advise the community on whether to evacuate or shelter in place if a release does occur. (@p.47)
  • The NTSB concludes that the New Jersey firefighter certification and training requirements were not effective as demonstrated by the failure of emergency responders to conduct operations in accordance with established health and safety protocols and OSHA HAZWOPER standards, and their lack of familiarity with available tools to evaluate toxic exposure threats.  (@p.46)

But hey, the Gov. says you can now have a “reading room” to briefly examine the chemical industry prepared “kill zone” maps (technically called off site consequence analysis”):(EO 284, emphasis mine)

Make the ERP and other 11044 documents available to the general public in a reading room during normal business hours or through another secure method as may be prescribed by the SERC in the future.

Doesn’t that make you feel so safe? (snark) You have a “right to know” essentially nothing!

One has to get deep into the weeds of EPA Technical Guidance Documents (Appendix D, page D-8) to find out what’s at stake, euphemistically referred to as certain “irreversible health effects”:

or irreversible health effects. (As noted above, LOCs for EHSs were not updated to reflect 1994 and later IDLHs.)

The estimated IDLH is derived from animal toxicity data, in order of preferred data, as follows:

From median lethal concentration (LC50) (inhalation): 0.1 x LC50

From lowest lethal concentration (LCLO) (inhalation):  1 x LCLO

Of course, NJ Spotlight fell for the Gov.’s cosmetic and toothless diversion, which is superficial and does not begin to scratch the surface of the reforms that are required. They even let the Gov. get away with this whopper, where the Gov.’s people couldn’t even name “recent emergencies”:

“The updates to the SERC have been in the works for many months and are not related to recent emergencies. Rather, the changes are consistent with federal emergency planning requirements. The updates act to simplify the process for emergency planning committees and ensures that key constituencies are represented on said committees,” the office said in a statement.

That statement contradicts DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s Jan. 21 remarks on NJ Spotlight that regulatory reforms were called for.

And even if that evasive statement is true, that means NJ delayed federally required reforms that may have contributed to “recent emergencies”!

While Spotlight’s prior TV coverage was pretty good – and it quoted DEP Commissioner downplaying risks by using legalistic terminology for “chemical catastrophe”  even the ACLU EJ and NJ WEC advocates included in that piece failed to call for real reforms.

So, we’ll again warn the people (for our prior warnings, see:

These totally unacceptable risks are concentrated in NJ’s poor and minority communities, yet the highly touted NJ environmental justice law does not apply to chemical safety issues, e.g. the DEP Right To Know, Pollution Prevention, or Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Acts.

NJ laws and DEP regulations under the NJ Worker and Community Right To Know Act and NJ Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act and Environmental Justice law must be strengthened, at a minimum, as follows (bullets per my recent Jan. 18, 2022 letter to Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith scroll down to read it):

These are what real reforms reforms would look like:

I)  Unacceptable Risk Standard and Siting Restrictions, Phase Outs, And Bans

II)  Stronger State Standards and Oversight – Rescind Local Delegations

III)  Expansion of TCPA Protections Into RTK Program

IV)  Public Disclosure Of “Kill Zone” Risk Maps

V)  Immediate Incident Response Command Center And Real Time Disclosure Of All Monitoring Data

VI)  Eliminate The Spill Act $50 Million Cap On Liability

VII)  Additional Training, Certification, And State Oversight

VIII)  Eliminate Current Law Protections Of Trade Secrets

***IX)  Close the Gaping Loopholes In The Environmental Justice Law

The EJ law does not apply to DEP reviews and regulations under the Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (TCPA), the Worker and Community Right to Know Act (RTK) and State remediation law regarding cleanup, redevelopment, and NRD compensation and/or restoration of contaminated sites.

[End Note: Here’s a critical equation, relevant to scores of NJ communities, that’s you’ll never see in a High School algebra or chemistry class: (EPA Off Site Consequence Analysis – Appendix C):

C.1 Equation for Estimation of Distance to 1 psi Overpressure for Vapor Cloud Explosions

For a worst-case release of flammable gases and volatile flammable liquids, the release rate is not considered. The total quantity of the flammable substance is assumed to form a vapor cloud. The entire contents of the cloud is assumed to be within the flammability limits, and the cloud is assumed to explode. For the worst-case, analysis, 10 percent of the flammable vapor in the cloud is assumed to participate in the explosion (i.e., the yield factor is 0.10). Consequence distances to an overpressure level of 1 pound per square inch (psi) may be determined using the following equation, which is based on the TNT-equivalency method:

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