On January 31, 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Alex Azar declared a public health emergency (“PHE”) over the outbreak of the new coronavirus. The PHE response requires coordination with a complex set of federal, state, tribal and local laws and effective compliance calls for a comprehensive understanding of the legal implications and ramifications—which impose challenges from adherence to certain federal laws.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s severe flooding, the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas has made quite the media splash. Rising waters left the plant without power, forcing workers to transfer volatile organic peroxides into large refrigerated trucks with independent generators. In up to six feet of water, several of the trucks’ refrigeration systems failed, resulting in combustion of the hydrogen peroxide, a hazardous material under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. This is not the first example of chemical plants having issues with natural disasters; there were significant hazardous material concerns after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and more recently the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. With no indication that these problems will be resolved, it is important to once again look at regulations placed on chemical plants in response to emergency.