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Gas leak kills 23 at plastics factory

Gas leak kills 23 at plastics factory

On October 23, 1989, 23 people die in a series of explosions sparked by an ethylene leak at a factory in Pasadena, Texas. The blasts, which took place at a Phillips Petroleum Company plant, were caused by inadequate safety procedures.

A polyethylene reactor at the Phillips 66 Chemical Complex in Pasadena created chemical compounds necessary for the production of plastics. The plant produced millions of pounds of plastics daily for use in toys and containers.

In an effort to cut costs, Phillips subcontracted much of the necessary maintenance work in the plant. Fish Engineering and Construction, the primary subcontractor, did not enjoy a stellar reputation even prior to the October 23 disaster. In August, a Fish employee opened gas piping for maintenance without isolating the line. This caused flammable solvents and gas to be sent into a work area where they ignited, killing one worker and injuring four others.

Fish was undertaking maintenance work on the plant’s polyethylene reactor on October 23 when, once again, problems arose. A valve was not secured properly, and at approximately 1 p.m., 85,000 pounds of highly flammable ethylene-isobutane gas were released into the plant. There were no detectors or warning systems in place to give notice of the impending disaster. Within two minutes, the large gas cloud ignited with the power of two-and-a-half tons of dynamite.

The explosion could be heard for miles in every direction and the resulting fireball was visible at least 15 miles away. Twenty-three workers at Phillips were killed and another 130 were seriously injured as the first explosion set off a chain reaction of blasts.

A subsequent investigation found that although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had cited Phillips for several serious safety violations in previous years, it had not done a comprehensive inspection of the plant since 1975. Other testimony revealed that inadequate safety procedures used during the maintenance process had left the plant vulnerable to disaster. However, no criminal charges were filed against Phillips or its managers.

India's chemical plant disaster: another case of history repeating itself

The gas leak at a chemical factory in Visakhapatnam will immediately remind many in India and beyond of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, widely considered the world’s worst industrial disaster.

So far, the scale of the tragedies are very different. Eleven people are confirmed to have died in Visakhapatnam – but with hundreds hospitalised and thousands affected, there are fears the toll will rise. In Bhopal, 4,000 people died within days of the toxic gas leak from a pesticide plant in the central Indian city, and thousands more in the following years.

But there are also startling parallels. The leak in Visakhapatnam, an industrial port city in Andhra Pradesh state on India’s east coast, was from two 5,000-tonne tanks of liquid chemicals. According to a local police officer, it occurred as the plant was being restarted as coronavirus restrictions imposed in late March were eased.

In Bhopal, a much bigger leak occurred, also from a tank full of chemical liquid – extremely hazardous methyl isocyanate – as parts of the complex were reactivated after a shutdown.

In both cases, the leak occurred at night, releasing gas into the crowded homes of workers and their families living around the factories. And both plants had overseas owners: South Korea’s biggest petrochemical maker, LG Chem, in the case of Visakhapatnam, and US-based Union Carbide the majority owner in the case of Bhopal.

Both incidents are only the most high-profile of thousands, big and small, that happen every year in India.

Quite how many industrial accidents occur in India annually is unknown, as many go unreported. Government statistics – which show 54,000 killed or injured in factory accidents between 2014 and 2016 – are thought to only represent a fraction of all casualties. Campaigners claim the true figure is up to 15 times greater.

One problem is that few workers or their relatives are aware of their rights or have the resources to seek legal redress. Many are migrant workers from distant rural communities, a higher proportion are women, a significant number come from the most disadvantaged communities, and so are vulnerable to physical or other threats. Employers often pay compensation privately to ensure a bereaved family’s silence.

Though a profusion of laws exist to protect workers in India, few are enforced. Inspections are rare, and some officials are easily compromised. Last year a fire caused by a short circuit killed 43 people and injured 60 in a workshop in Delhi. The building had been repeatedly inspected by local officials but no alarms were raised despite its evidently poor condition. Police said they would investigate alleged corruption.

Similarly, owners often escape sanction. The criminal justice system in India is slow, and scarce police resources are unlikely to be focused on the investigation of industrial accidents. Local political rivalries, or tensions between state-level and national-level governments can also complicate the search for justice. Pursuing multinationals or foreign owners is expensive, complicated, time-consuming and fraught with uncertainty.

In the case of Bhopal, the then chairman of the company, a US citizen, refused to return to India to face charges, and Union Carbide paid only $470m (£282m) in 1989 to the Indian government in an out-of-court settlement. In 2010 a court sentenced eight Indians to two years in jail.

Finally, there is the profound problem of political will. Campaigners point to the example of traffic accidents. There are between 150,000 and 300,000 road deaths a year in India. Most of the casualties are poor people, with pedestrians and cyclists prominent among victims. Political decision-makers are significantly more likely to be among those being driven in large, safe cars on the chaotic roads than among those suffering most from the potholes, poor discipline and driving skills, or badly maintained vehicles.

The same is true of air pollution, which causes more than 2 million deaths each year, according to some estimates. Once again, those who suffer most cannot afford air filters, sealed windows, homes with gardens or travel during acute periods.

PV Ramesh, a senior official in the Andhra Pradesh government, said 10m rupees ($131,900) in compensation would be given to the families of those who died on Thursday at Visakhapatnam, and the causes of the accident investigated.

“Obviously something has gone wrong,” Ramesh said. “Nobody will be spared.”

This article was amended on 8 May 2020 to make clear that Union Carbide was majority owner of the Bhopal pesticide plant.

Indian LG plant lacked environmental clearance before leak

A plastics factory in India where a chemical gas leak killed 12 people lacked federal environmental clearance but had been issued state permits to operate anyway, exposing a potentially dangerous enforcement gap in the country’s laws

NEW DELHI -- A plastics factory in India where a chemical gas leak killed 12 people and sickened hundreds more last week lacked federal environmental clearance but had been issued state permits to operate anyway, exposing a potentially dangerous enforcement gap in the country's laws.

The owner of the LG Polymers plant in Andhra Pradesh state, South Korean chemicals giant LG Chem, said in a May 2019 affidavit that formed part of an application for the clearance that the company “doesn’t have a valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority, for continuing operations.”

LG Chem spokesman Choi Sang-kyu told The Associated Press that the company had always followed Indian law and had operated the plant based on the guidance of Indian officials, both at the state and federal level. He said the affidavit was a pledge to comply with the law in the future and not an admission of any violations.

Interviews with officials and legal experts indicate that the plant was likely operating in a legal grey area, with the environmental clearance required under federal regulations but the enforcement of those requirements left up to states. While there has been no indication that the lack of such a clearance played a role in the May 7 disaster, experts say the fact that the plant operated for years without one shows how weak environmental laws can be in a nation with many of the world's most polluted cities.

“There are many such industries operating without an EC," environmental lawyer Mahesh Chandra Mehta said, adding that it showed authorities were “toothless.”

LG Polymers is facing charges following the disaster, which involved styrene gas, a neurotoxin, leaking from a storage tank as workers prepared to restart operations idled during India’s coronavirus lockdown. In addition to the dead, more than 1,000 people were sent to hospitals.

Police have charged LG Polymers with culpable homicide, including negligence in handling toxic substances. lndia’s top environmental court has also asked the company to pay a $6.6 million penalty because of “damage to life, public health and environment.”

The court is also considering a plea filed by an environmental activist and former federal bureaucrat that raises questions about how state authorities allowed the company to function without federal clearance.

Choi said the company couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation but would cooperate with Indian authorities.

LG Chem bought the plant in 1997 and between then and 2006 it is clear that it needed only state permits to operate, which it had.

Things get murkier after that, however, due to new federal rules that came into force requiring companies in industries including petrochemicals to obtain a federal environmental clearance every time they expanded a plant or changed what they manufactured.

LG Chem expanded its operations at LG Polymers plant five times between 2006 and 2018, but it never received an environmental clearance, according to the May 2019 affidavit.

Choi said when the federal rules changed in 2006, the company consulted with the ministry and was told that no environmental clearance was required.

“We have been operating the company while abiding environmental regulations even before the laws on environment clearances were made,” Choi said.

Environment Secretary C.K. Mishra told the AP that LG Polymers would not have needed a clearance in 2006, but would have had to apply for environmental clearances going forward to change what they were making or expand capacity.

LG Polymers appears to have never been asked for a federal clearance until 2017, when it approached the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board with plans to start producing engineering plastics at its plant, according to meeting minutes reviewed by AP.

The request was denied and the company was told it would need the federal clearance.

There are no indications, however, that the state told the company to stop operating the plant. T. Rajendra Reddy, a member of the state pollution board, said he “had no information” about any such order.

In 2018, when LG Polymers wanted to expand its manufacturing capacity of polystyrene, a plastic used to make bottles and lids, the company finally applied for its first environmental clearance, documents show. The Environment Ministry flagged the application for review, noting that the company didn’t have a clearance for the chemicals it was already manufacturing.

LG Polymers then withdrew the application and instead applied for a retroactive clearance that the Environment Ministry offered companies in 2018 as a one-time amnesty. That application remained pending when the deadly leak occurred.

“While we were not required to retroactively apply for an EC, we did apply for the EC under the central government policies and the application is currently under review,” Choi said.

Choi said each of the times the company expanded the plant it did so under approval granted by its state permits.

State authorities issue two permits in India -- the first to start a new business and another to run it -- that are required for all industries that could potentially pollute the air or water. The operational permits are renewed every five years.

Mehta, the environmental lawyer, said that each time LG Polymers renewed that permit, the state pollution board, the authority charged with enforcing federal environmental law, had the power to fine the company or deny it a permit until it received federal clearance.

Asked why the state kept renewing the plant's permits despite it not having the federal environmental clearance, Vivek Yadav, the state board’s second-in-command, told AP they were “examining the issue in detail.”

Compared with state permits, the federal environmental clearance takes a broader approach: assessing the potential impact of the project on people, their livelihoods and the environment while ensuring that precautions are built in to prevent accidents.

B. Sengupta, the former head of India’s top anti-pollution agency, said that the state permits only consider pollution, not safety.

The federal clearance “looks at those risks, how hazardous materials are being handled and stored, what plans are there to prevent and deal with disasters,” he said.

Associated Press writer Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

Plastics Factory

A fire broke out at a plastic factory in the Asangaon area of Thane on Tuesday morning.

India News | Edited by Aman Dwivedi | Friday November 20, 2020

Six persons were killed and several others were critically injured in a blast at a plastic factory in West Bengal's Malda district on Thursday, police said.

Delhi News | Press Trust India | Saturday September 12, 2020

A fire broke out at a plastic factory in Delhi's Inderlok area on Saturday morning, a fire service official said.

Andhra Pradesh News | Press Trust of India | Thursday May 7, 2020

About 80-100 people have been hospitalised after a gas, Styrene, leaked in the area at about 2:30 am, NDRF Director General S N Pradhan said.

World News | Agence France-Presse | Thursday December 12, 2019

At least 13 people were killed and nearly 20 people were critically injured when a fire swept through an illegal plastics factory outside the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, police said Thursday.

Cities | ANI | Tuesday October 15, 2019

A massive fire broke out at a plastic factory in Gujarat's Kutch on Monday night.Several fire engines tried to control it. The fire gutted goods worth crores of rupees. The property was also damaged.

Delhi News | Press Trust of India | Sunday June 30, 2019

A fire broke out at a plastic factory in outer Delhi's Narela area on Sunday, officials said.

Delhi News | Edited by Nonika Marwaha | Sunday April 7, 2019

A huge broke out at a plastic factory in North Delhi's Narela Industrial Area, in the early hours of Sunday, news agency ANI reported. 22 fire engines are present at the spot.

Cities | Press Trust of India | Tuesday February 12, 2019

Five people went missing after a fire broke out in a plastic furniture manufacturing unit in North 24 Parganas district on Monday, a state minister said.

Kolkata News | Press Trust of India | Monday February 11, 2019

A major fire broke out at a plastic chair manufacturing unit in West Bengals North 24-Parganasdistrict on Monday, a fire brigade official said.

Kolkata News | Press Trust of India | Friday November 9, 2018

A fire broke out at a plastic godown on Friday night in Anandapur area on the southern fringes of the city, police said.

Kerala News | Written by Sneha Mary Koshy | Thursday November 1, 2018

A massive fire broke out at a plastic godown in Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday evening. Visuals from the spot showed thick smoke billowing out. Two multi-storey buildings of a plastic factory at Manvila Industrial Estate have been engulfed in the fire for at least 4 hours.

Noida News | Edited by Vaibhav Tiwari | Thursday September 27, 2018

A 25-year-old man died on Wednesday in a Noida plastic factory after he was sucked in by the machine he was cleaning. Someone switched on the machine with blades while the victim was working on it, the police said.

Patna News | Indo-Asian News Service | Thursday March 1, 2018

A youth allegedly committed suicide in Bihar's Supaul district on Thursday after he was refused a loan for his plastic factory by Punjab National Bank, police said.

Ludhiana News | Press Trust of India | Thursday November 23, 2017

Days after a massive fire in a multi-storey plastic factory left 13 people dead, no further information has come out regarding three firefighters suspected to be still trapped underthe debris, an official said today.

Vizag Gas Leak: Here’s What You Should Know About LG Polymers Factory That Claimed 8 Lives

By: ABP News Bureau | Updated : 07 May 2020 01:18 PM (IST)

**EDS: TWITTER IMAGE POSTED BY @satyaprad1 ON THURSDAY, MAY 07, 2020** Visakhapatnam: NDRF personnel evacuate an elderly woman after a major chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers industry in RR Venkatapuram village, Visakhapatnam. (PTI Photo) (PTI07-05-2020_000038B)

New Delhi: The gas leak at a LG Polymers factory on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh in the early hours have left almost eight dead and more than hundreds hospitalised. The gas leak brings back memories of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, which took place more than 35 years ago, killing thousands of people. The gas leak has left people in shock amid the consistent fight against Covid-19 which has already claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Which are the affected areas so far?

The styrene gas leak, also known as PVC gas, affected areas including RRV Puram, Venkatapuram, BC Colony, Padmapuram and Kamparapalem. Many people have left the area while several fell unconscious on the roads. Police and NDRF teams evacuated several factory workers while others have been taken to the King George Hospital. Children and the elderly were most affected, according to the Indian Express report.

When was the factory established?

The factory from which the gas leaked is located at RRV Puram in Gopalapatnam, which is 15 km away from Visakhapatnam.

The factory was first established in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers to manufacture polystyrene. Later it was integrated with MCDowell &Co of the UB Group in 1978 before being acquired by South Korea-based LG Chem in 1997 which renamed it as LG Polymers.

What does it manufacture?

The company is into the business of manufacturing general-purpose polystyrene and high impact polystyrene, expandable polystyrene, and engineering plastics compounds. It has a very strong presence in Styrenics business in South Korea and considered one of the leading manufacturers of Polystyrene and Expandable Polystyrene in India.

When did the gas leak?

At the time of the suspected leakage in the plant around 2.30 AM on Thursday, the workers were checking a gas storage tank. According to experts if a person is exposed to styrene for a long time it can cause serious multiple complications. However, the studies on the reproductive and developmental effects of styrene are still inconclusive. Some experts opine that the gas may affect central nervous system, peripheral neuropathy and cause extreme weakness and fatigue.

All About LG Polymers–Owner Of Vizag Unit Where Gas Leak Killed 11

A gas leak at the Visakhapatnam factory of LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd. today killed 11 and exposed thousands of people living in nearby villages to toxic styrene fumes.

The company is owned by LG Chem Ltd. of South Korea, an affiliate of LG Corp.—the electronics-to-services giant.

LG Polymers India, earlier known as Hindustan Polymers, was established in 1961 and manufactured polystyrene and its co-polymers—used to make plastic products—at the facility in the coastal city of Andhra Pradesh. It was merged with McDowell & Co. Ltd. of the United Breweries Group in 1978.

In 1997, LG Chem (South Korea) took over Hindustan Polymers and renamed it LG Polymers. The company makes chemical and chemical products, pharmaceuticals, medicinal chemical and botanical products, according to its filing.


Hoonchung Chung is managing director of LG Polymers India, according to company filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. Its directors include Byungkeun Song, Chan Sik Chung, Poorna Chandra Mohan Rao Pitchuka, Sunkey Jeong and Ravinder Reddy Surukanti.


The company reported a net worth of Rs 479.60 crore in 2018, according to company filings. Net revenue stood at Rs 1,570 crore compared with Rs 1,497 crore a year ago. Profit after tax was Rs 3.6 crore in 2018 against Rs 68.3 crore in 2017.

News Wrap: May 7, 2020 - Vizag factory gas leak claims several lives and more

Catch up on all the top developments of the day with our daily news capsule.

Gas leak at Vizag plastics factory leaves at least 11 dead

At least 11 people, including a six-year-old, were killed and nearly 5,000 fell sick after a chemical gas leaked from a plastic manufacturing unit of LG Polymers in Andhra Pradesh's Gopalapatnam near Visakhapatnam in the early hours of Thursday. Read More

Indian company claims to have made home-use COVID-19 test kit

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What is styrene gas and how does it affect humans?

Styrene is regarded as a "known carcinogen", especially in case of eye contact, but also in case of skin contact, of ingestion and of inhalation. According to reports, long-term exposure to styrene in humans results in effects on the central nervous system (CNS), such as headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression, CSN dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy. Read More

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Rahul Gandhi turns journalist amid COVID-19 pandemic

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#BoisLockerRoom: What can we do to prevent such horrifying incidents?

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Factory Behind India Gas Leak Operated Illegally Until at Least Mid-2019

The chemical factory that leaked gas into a coastal Indian city on Thursday morning, killing at least 12 people and putting hundreds in hospital, was operating illegally until at least the middle of 2019, documents show.

An industrial area in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, where a gas leak at an LG Polymers plant killed at least 12 people last week. Photo by Nballa.

In an affidavit filed by LG Polymers in May 2019, as part of its application to expand the plastic plant’s operations, the South Korean multinational admitted it was operating its polystyrene plant without the mandatory environmental clearance from the Indian government.

“As on this date our industry does not have a valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority, for continuing operations,” the company said.

In the early hours of Thursday, toxic styrene fumes began leaking from the LG plant in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh state, as preparations were underway to restart production after a nationwide lockdown. The gas enveloped residents as they slept, causing people to collapse in the streets as they fled their homes. About 1,000 people were exposed to the gas, which causes neurological symptoms including headaches and nausea, as well as burning eyes. Twelve residents, including two children, died.

The documents show that in December 2017, LG Polymers applied to the central government for the mandatory environmental clearance, in regard to a proposed expansion. The factory had been operating since 2001, but it is unclear whether the company had ever applied for the legally required permit before this.

In its affidavit filed May 2019, LG Polymers informed central and state government it had not fulfilled its legally binding environmental requirement. Prior to this, the factory had operated based only on consent given by the Andhra Pradesh pollution control board. The same pollution control board had also given approval on six separate occasions for LG Polymers to expand its operations.

The company then inexplicably withdrew its application in November 2019, even though the clearance had not yet been granted. The Guardian could not confirm whether it had since received the necessary permits.

Environment clearance involves carrying out scoping and pollution studies, consulting with affected communities and mapping out any potential contaminating impact of the plant, under the scrutiny of an expert panel.

“Running without an environment clearance is a crime: consent from the pollution board is not a ground on which they can operate,” a Delhi-based environmental lawyer, Ritwick Dutta, said. “They should have ceased production at least then. Culpability is with the pollution control board, state and central environment authorities. They knew, they should have taken action proactively.”

LG Polymers did not respond to a request for comment.

EAS Sarma, a former government finance and power secretary, who lives in Visakhapatnam, has filed a legal petition against the ministry of environment, the Andhra Pradesh state government and LG Polymers, calling for them to be held accountable for failing to comply with environmental law and to pay damages for contaminating the area. The petition was heard on Friday by the National Green Tribunal, India’s top environmental court. Its ruling is awaited.

The erosion of environmental safeguards and legislation has been evident since the prime minister, Narendra Modi, came to power in 2014. Green laws have been eased in favor of reduced industrial scrutiny and factories are now allowed to apply for retrospective environmental clearance. In March, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change amended the law so that smaller industrial, mining, and energy projects will no longer be required to undergo environmental impact assessment.

Environmentalists said this lack of enforcement and accountability on environmental laws meant it was not uncommon for major industries, such as construction or coal mines, to operate without clearance. Federal and local pollution and industrial safety watchdogs are often thinly staffed and poorly trained and equipped.

The cost of poor environmental regulation is high. On Thursday, as well as the LG Polymers leak, there were industrial accidents at two other factories, one in Chhattisgarh and another in Tamil Nadu, that hospitalized several workers. In April, six people, including two toddlers, died when the waste pond burst at a factory in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli region, which was allegedly operating in violation of environmental laws, releasing a flood of ash slurry.

VS Krishna of the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Forum said there was already an attempt by state government to remove LG Polymers from any potential criminal liability for the gas leak.

“No one is talking about criminal liability, there’s not been any deterrent,” he said. “There’s been a spate of accidents in this city and it all ends at compensation. The attempt to whitewash the South Koreans and the government has already started.”

Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate

The Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate is a large industrial park in the town of Map Ta Phut in Rayong Province, Thailand. Part of Thailand's eastern seaboard economic region, it is the country's largest industrial estate and the world's eighth-largest petrochemical industrial hub. It was opened in 1990 and is managed by the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand, a state enterprise under the Ministry of Industry.

Map Ta Phut houses five industrial estates, one deep-sea port, and 151 factories, including petrochemical plants, oil refineries, coal-fired power stations, and iron and steel facilities. The zone occupies 166 km 2 . The area contains around 30 agricultural and residential communities with more than 49,000 residents. [1]

According to the World Resources Institute, "Map Ta Phut is one of the Thailand's most toxic hot spots with a. history of air and water pollution, industrial accidents, illegal hazardous waste dumping, and pollution-related health impacts including cancer and birth deformities." [1] : 20

In 2007, 11 communities in the Map Ta Phut zone filed a lawsuit against the National Environmental Board (NEB), alleging that the board had improperly failed to designate Map Ta Phut and its vicinity a pollution control zone. Another lawsuit was filed against the NEB and eight other Thai ministries by community organizations. Managed by the Eastern People's Network, the lawsuit focused on the failure to follow prescribed procedures, including conducting environmental and health impact assessments, before issuing licenses to 76 new industrial projects. In 2009, the Supreme Administrative Court suspended the development of 65 projects at the estate, worth an estimated US$8 billion, due to inadequate health impact assessments. It allowed 11 projects to proceed. [2] Ultimately, 74 of the 76 contested projects were allowed to continue. [1] : 21

What is Styrene and how can exposure affect humans?

  • Styrene is a colourless, or light yellow, flammable liquid primarily used in the production of polystyrene plastics and resins - it is used in the manufacture of containers for foodstuffs, packaging, synthetic marble, flooring, disposable tableware and moulded furniture
  • Breathing air contaminated with styrene vapours can cause irritation of the nose and throat, coughing and wheezing, and create a build-up of fluid in the lungs
  • Exposure to larger amounts can result in the onset of "styrene sickness", the signs and symptoms of which include headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, tiredness, dizziness, confusion and clumsy or unsteady motion (known collectively as central nervous system depression)
  • In some cases exposure to styrene can also result in irregular heartbeats and even coma
  • Several epidemiologic studies suggest there may be an association between styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma though the evidence is inconclusive

Sources: The PHE Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards and US Environment Protection Agency