- Office of the State Auditor
Media Contact for Audit Calls on State to Do More to Ensure Cities and Towns Are Prepared to Respond to Chemical Emergencies
Mike Wessler, Communications Director
Boston — An audit released today by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump calls on the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to take steps to comply with federal guidelines designed to ensure cities and towns are prepared to effectively respond to chemical emergencies. The audit, which examined the period of July 1, 2016 through December 31, 2018, found the state had not established Emergency Planning Committees (EPCs) for 53 cities and towns in which businesses use and store significant levels of hazardous chemicals. There were 442 businesses that reported inventories of hazardous chemicals located in these communities.
Under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), MEMA is responsible for establishing EPCs for cities and towns. These committees are responsible for developing plans to respond to chemical emergencies in their areas.
“The recent explosion in Newburyport makes clear that communities must have a plan in place to respond to hazardous chemical emergencies. However, this audit revealed that the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has not taken steps to make sure communities are equipped to effectively deal with such events, putting public safety at risk,” Bump said of the audit. “MEMA must quickly take action to ensure communities are fully prepared to respond to similar chemical emergencies.”
In its response to the audit, MEMA reported it will coordinate with communities to identify areas that should be part of an EPC and take steps to support the formation of a committee.
Additionally, MEMA was unable to show Bump’s staff that it had received or reviewed each EPC’s emergency response plan to ensure communities were adequately prepared to deal with chemical emergencies. In its response, MEMA reported it would take steps to retain additional documentation for local emergency response planning.
In calendar year 2018, there were 4,277 businesses in Massachusetts that reported to government agencies that they used or stored significant levels of hazardous chemicals.
MEMA is responsible for ensuring the state is prepared to withstand, respond to, and recover from all types of emergencies and disasters. During the audit, MEMA had approximately 80 full-time employees and 12 to 15 contractors. In fiscal year 2019, the agency received $1,720,000 in state appropriations and $60,925,000 in federal grants.