Nationally, environmental and labor groups refer to reducing the use and storage of highly toxic chemicals such as MIC as adoption of "inherently safer technologies." Currently, the National Academy of Sciences is using the Bayer MIC unit as a case study to examine the concept.
In a 2002 report called "Challenges in Implementing Inherent Safety Principles in New and Existing Chemical Processes," Mannan said that inherently safer technologies "may require significant financial resources," without eliminating all risk of accidents.
"Everyday life is plagued with hazards that are intrinsic to our society," the report said. "Removing all hazards is not possible."
In recent years, the idea of forcing companies to consider such safer alternatives has become part of the discussion over ways to make chemical manufacturing plants less attractive targets for terrorists. Andrea Kidd Taylor, a former U.S. Chemical Safety Board member who is serving on the national academy's study team, has advocated requiring companies to analyze potentially safer technologies.
"Substituting more secure alternatives for hazardous substances, where technologically and economically feasible and comparable risks are not shifted is the best way to protect workers, their families, and their communities," Kidd Taylor told a June 2008 congressional hearing. "By switching to more secure technologies, the facilities are no longer potential terrorist targets."
Gerald Setley, a vice president for the International Chemical Workers Union Council, has spoken in favor of requiring companies to examine potentially safer technologies.
"The evaluation of safer technology is a vital step to significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic release of chemicals from intentional attacks or unintentional disasters," Setley said during a 2007 congressional hearing.
Rick Hind, legislative director for the Greenpeace toxics campaign, told that same hearing that such technologies also end up being better for business.
"The use of safer technologies offers a more competitive and stable business plan with much fewer regulations, potentially zero liability, sustainable profitability, better relationships with workers and neighboring communities and no threat of catastrophic attack or accident," Hind said. "Requiring safer technologies simply establishes a level playing field that will allow proven, cost-effective systems to grow profitably while providing communities safety and security."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.