By Molly Brackin, Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist
Listening Session Public Comment
Executive Order #13650: Improving Chemical Safety and Security
My name is Molly Brackin, and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. I have been with the Bucket Brigade since July 2013, as the Monitoring and Evaluation Associate.
This Executive Order acknowledges the importance of better channels of communication between government agencies and first responders, and increasing public access to information about chemical facility risks. In my work with the Bucket Brigade I have had first-hand experiences with the breakdowns in communication during a chemical accident. I have had numerous conversations with community members who were left in the dark following a chemical accident in their neighborhood. The Toxic Release Inventory is not enough. Simply knowing what might be emitted into a neighborhood is very different from what has been released, how much has been released and when. Citizens and first responders need up-to-date, easily accessible information about chemical accidents that affect their community. Communities should not have to search for information on the chemicals and pollutants that are affecting them- that information should be given directly to these communities.
The petrochemical facilities in Louisiana have a chronic problem with accidents. In January 2014 alone, there were 62 NRC (National Response Center) reports from facilities. LABB has an open-source tool to track these accidents, as well as the community impact from these accidents. The iWitness Pollution Map, which can be viewed at iwitnesspollution.org, shows both NRC reports and citizen reports in real-time. When a community member sees, smells, hears or experiences pollution they have the option to call, text, or email their experiences and photos to the iWitness Pollution Map. Community members can also sign up for alerts, so that anytime an NRC report comes in or a neighbor sees pollution, they get an e-mail or a text.
The map is useful in many ways. It helps to geo-locate citizen complaints, therefore validating a community member’s experience. The map also helps first responders know exactly who the problem is affecting, and it provides a visual of the offsite impacts of petrochemical accidents. We use the map as evidence to contest the claim that the accidents happening in these facilities do not have an impact beyond their fenceline. In addition to the 62 facility reports in January 2014, there were 68 citizen reports to the map- many of which complained of odors and flaring. Obviously, more needs to be done to protect the many communities that are risk from their dangerous, polluting neighbors.