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Responsible Care: Results

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How effective is Responsible Care?

To judge by its professed principles, Responsible Care is a failure. The chemical industry has continued its historic pattern of resisting and undermining government regulations, chemical spills and explosions continue to kill or injure workers and community residents, and the industry remains driven by profit, not concerns for health and safety:

  • The touted commitment to community right-to-know is a myth: In a 1998 survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, more than 75 percent of companies publicly committed to Responsible Care would not or could not provide answers to the most basic questions about the chemicals used at their facilities. [Trust Us, Don't Track Us: An Investigation of the Chemical Industry's Responsible Care Program. U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 1998]

  • An independent study in 2000 by the Wharton School found that the annual number of accidents at a selected set of U.S. chemical facilities increased from 157 in 1994 to 431 in 1998. Although a comparison is not available with earlier periods, in those five years 33 workers were killed in plant accidents and more than 1,800 were injured. In the same period, 141 members of the public were injured, and more than 220,000 people were forced either to evacuate or stay indoors following chemical accidents. Total property damage topped $1 billion. (Wharton scholars proposed to CMA a study to compare accident rates at Responsible Care facilities with those not in the program, but CMA declined the offer.) [Paul Kleindorfer, Harold Freeman and Robert Lowe, "Accident Epidemiology and the U.S. Chemical Industry: Preliminary Results from RMP Info," Wharton School Working Paper, March 6, 2000. http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/risk/wp/wplist00.html]

  • Even chemical company managers say Responsible Care does little to prevent or limit pollution because it lacks goals and accountability. [New Jersey's Planning Process: Shaping a New Vision of Pollution Prevention, Case Study Number 4 - Witco Corporation. Tellus Institute]

However, judged by its real goals - improve the industry's public image and stave off new regulation - Responsible Care may have achieved at least part of what the chemical industry wanted, at least until now when the public can learn the truth behind the program through the Chemical Industry Archives.

In 1996, CMA's Public Perceptions Committee claimed "interim success" in stopping "the slide" in public opinion after the first five years of Responsible Care. (view entire document) And in the 15 years after Bhopal, only six states enacted new regulations on chemical safety, and all of these had significant weaknesses in reach, authority, and resources. At the federal level, CMA has been largely successful in opposing stronger laws granting real regulatory authority to the public sector to prevent chemical accidents and toxic emissions.

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last updated: march.27.2009

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