Report Summary

Risks Posed to Chemical Facilities by Climate Change

As the average temperature of the Earth continues to rise, there has been an increase in the frequency and severity of severe weather patterns (National Climate Assessment, 2014). These severe weather patterns cause flooding and can include spikes in wind gusts, heat, and extreme precipitation, which can pose dangerous risks to facilities which store toxic chemicals. Floods, structural damage, and power loss are common causes of chemical release, that pose risks to surrounding ecosystems and populations (Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, n.d.). Within the United States, there are over 22,000 facilities which use toxic chemicals (Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). In Massachusetts alone, there are about 400 toxics using facilities, as shown in Figure ES.1 (Environmental Protection Agency, 2016).

Figure ES.1 Toxics use sites in Massachusetts. Orange markers indicate National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDE) discharge sites and red markers indicate EPA-marked Tier 2 sites. Regional Planning Agency boundaries are marked with a dark blue line (Massachusetts Toxics Users and Climate Vulnerability Factors Map).

Toxics Use Reduction

While there are many approaches to reducing the risk of accidents involving toxic chemicals, the safest and most effective solution is to reduce the amount of chemicals that are stored in a given facility  (Office of Technical Assistance and Technology, n.d.b). This approach, called toxics use reduction, minimizes the risk of accidents and possible exposure in the event of an emergency (Office of Technical Assistance and Technology, n.d.b). In 1989, Massachusetts adopted a law to promote the policies of toxics use reduction, titled the Toxics Reduction Act (TURA).

Office of Technical Assistance and Technology

To support Massachusetts’ toxics-using businesses, the OTA provides free, confidential technical services to assist toxics users in toxics use reduction. An EPA grant allowed the OTA to partner with seven Regional Planning Agencies in Massachusetts to hold free training sessions for first responders, municipal workers, toxics users, and other invested individuals that might benefit from the OTA’s services.

The OTA has hosted a total of 14 toxics use reduction trainings and seminars across the state of Massachusetts since September 2017. The OTA plans to continue the program and hopes to improve it based on the feedback of past participants.


The goal of our project was to assess the effectiveness of the Office of Technical Assistance and Technology’s climate change resiliency and chemical safety program, consisting of trainings and confidential site visits, and develop recommendations for improvements that can be made to the program.


To achieve the goal we completed three objectives:

Objective 1: Developed criteria for assessing program effectiveness

Objective 2: Evaluated program based on identified criteria

Objective 3: Developed and delivered recommendations to the OTA for improving the program


Our evaluation is based on feedback from 1 first responder, 3 municipal workers, 22 trainings attendees, 9 site visit participants, and 213 RPA training surveyees. OTA provided us with contact information for the 197 individuals who included their contact information in training surveys or have hosted site visits within the last three years. A limitation of our study is the relatively small response rate from the survey and the small number of interviews, as shown in Table ES.1.

Interviews Surveys
Emails Sent 197
Emails Bounced Unknown 32
Scheduled Interviews 12 N/A
Completed 9 19
Initial Response Rate 16.3% N/A
Completion Rate 11.1% 11.5%

Table ES.1 An outline of interview and survey outreach and response statistics.

Criteria for program effectiveness

Our criteria are defined in Table ES.2. They include descriptions of each criterion along with examples of a threshold for success. These criteria served as a guideline for measuring the effectiveness of the OTA’s services in Objective 2.


Criteria Description Example of Success
Relevance of Services OTA services are relevant to the needs of their clients

Information provided directly benefits the organizations seeking help via OTA trainings or other services

5+ rating given

Expectations met

Relevance of Recommendations Clients are able to make changes related to their process, their facility, their trainings, etc. without being completely impeded by barriers (e.g. cost)

OTA ability to provide reasonable recommendations, sensitive to the needs of the company with respect to possible barriers

Reduced usage of chemicals and improved chemical storage for severe weather conditions

Already implemented or intent to implement changes based on OTA recommendations

Revised or intent to revise risk management plan with local first responders

Client Satisfaction Clients are satisfied with OTA trainings and other services Inclusion of phrases/words such as “I liked” or “helpful”

Willingness to continue to work with the OTA

Table ES.2 Outline of criteria for program evaluation with descriptions and examples.

Assessment of the program based on identified criteria

Findings from RPA Survey Responses

We obtained access to previously administered surveys filled out by training attendees, consisting of a pre-training survey, linked on the informational pamphlet that advertised the training locations and dates, and a post-training survey by the RPA which hosted the training. The 213 responses to these surveys were compiled in order to gain insight into the trends in the opinions of the participants, which were then used to identify and support possible recommendations for the OTA trainings.

Surveyees have a need for and interest in OTA trainings. 53.7% of surveyees who took the pre-training survey responded that they had conducted a hazard analysis and prepared an emergency response plan within the last two years. This shows that companies have interest in subjects included in the services that the OTA offers and that their services are relevant to the companies’ values. The existence of companies who have not recently conducted the hazard analysis and emergency plan suggests that the OTA’s services are needed.

Surveyees found the tools and resources presented at trainings inspiring or useful to their situation. According to RPA surveys, company interest in the trainings is supported by responses of 77.1% of surveyees in the post-training survey, who indicated that they were beginning to implement changes with the intent of reducing toxic chemical and material usage. This finding is consistent with the findings from our own outreach.

OTA services are insufficiently advertised to the companies who may require assistance. Responses to a question on the post-training survey which inquired about the surveyees familiarity about the OTA’s confidential technical services indicate just over half of the training attendees were unaware of the OTA’s technical services. This indicates that many companies who could benefit most from the OTA’s technical assistance were unaware of these services.

Findings from Our Interviews and Surveys

We scheduled 12 interviews with OTA participants through contact information given to us by the OTA. In total, we interviewed 9 of these people, including 7 toxics users, 1 municipal worker, and 1 first responder. Two of these interviewees had site visits in the past. We received 19 responses to the survey that we had sent out, asking questions that were similar to those in our interviews so that we might compare the data from both.

Trainings could benefit from an active, hands on, or mock disaster scenario component. The first responder who we interviewed suggested the addition of hands on activities in order to increase audience engagement, and that there is “a strong need to do… real time training, in other words, doing a mock session”

Trainings met municipal staff expectations. Three municipal staff indicated that their expectations were met, and that the content covered in the training was helpful. They were primarily expecting to gain information on what to do in case of chemical accidents, as well as expecting to network with the community.

Toxics users desire more specificity. Of the 7 toxics users, 3 responded that their expectations were not fully met, indicating that the training was lacking in specificity. This indicates a gap between what the training attendees felt they needed to know and what information the OTA presented. Respondents felt the training could be more specific to individual workplace and emergency preparedness. This finding through our own outreach is consistent with the findings from all audiences we interviewed.

OTA resources are relevant. Three toxics users stated that the OTA resources shown at the training were useful. Specifically, 2 respondents said the climate and flood maps were most beneficial. This indicates that the OTA should continue presenting these resources in the future. This finding through our own outreach is consistent with the findings from RPA surveyees.

Toxics users desire a greater online presence. Respondents said the OTA’s current information on their website was beneficial to them and a great resource to have when looking for information. Respondents also believed this online presence could be expanded upon.

Trainings act as a valuable networking event. Three of the 6 training attendees mentioned, without being prompted, that they valued the opportunity to establish relationships with local first responders.

Toxics users desire more focus on weather specific to the northeastern region. Two of 3 toxics users who provided feedback desired information more relevant to the northeast, such as winter weather preparedness and hurricanes moving north.

OTA’s TUR recommendations can be difficult to implement. Three out of 9 toxics users are in the process of implementing or have already made changes based upon OTA trainings. All 3 of these respondents indicated difficulties in the implementation recommendations from OTA.

Companies are moving towards TUR without OTA assistance. Six out of 9 respondents indicated that they were not taking action based on OTA assistance. Of these 6 companies, 5 indicated they are making TUR changes using resources other than the OTA.

Toxics users are willing to work with OTA in the future. Five out of 5 respondents indicated interest in working with the OTA in the future.

Individuals who have hosted site visits are willing to work with OTA in the future. All 6 of the site visit participants who were asked if they would work with the OTA in the future showed willingness to do so.


Our evaluation process resulted in recommendations for improvements to the OTA’s program. These recommendations are aimed at making the OTA’s valuable information more accessible to a larger audience while simultaneously addressing the unmet needs of various niche groups.

Recommendations for Trainings

  • OTA should expand their services or work with other state agencies to fulfill the unmet needs of businesses who are not required to report under TURA.
  • OTA should develop webinar versions of the training, available online through their website.
  • OTA should develop another supplemental training with a hands-on approach to emergency preparedness.
  • OTA should provide more focus on severe weather in the northeast region.

Recommendation for Site Visits

  • OTA should improve the marketing of their services to increase awareness of their services.

Recommendation for Online Resources

  • OTA should make TUR resources accessible online through their website.

Recommendation for Data Collection and Organization

  • OTA should utilize centralized online surveying tools to improve data collection, consistency, and organization.


Our project has demonstrated that while the OTA program meets the needs of many, their services could certainly benefit from improvements that could promote them to a larger audience while simultaneously increasing how effective and impactful they are to their clients. Our findings and recommendations have been presented to the OTA and sparked conversations and ideas to better meet the needs of their program, thereby helping to make Massachusetts a safer place to live and work.