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Chemical board continues to delay DuPont report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Chemical Safety Board officials continue to delay the release of a report on a series of DuPont Belle Plant issues, including the January 2010 phosgene leak that killed a longtime DuPont worker.

Board members have twice voted down proposals by Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso to issue the report, either with or without a related public meeting in the Kanawha Valley.

In part, the report is being held up by a conflict between Moure-Eraso, an appointee by President Obama, and three members of the five-member board who are holdovers from the George W. Bush administration.

Two of those holdover members -- William Wright and William Wark -- did not return phone calls last week, and the third, board member John Bresland, refused to describe in any detail the underlying disputes among the board factions.

"I'm not going to get into those or any issues that like," Bresland said in a phone interview.

Over the last few months, Bresland joined Wark and Wright in voting down proposals for issuing the DuPont report. The report has been completed, and portions of it shared with DuPont and other government officials.

First, the three board members objected to Moure-Eraso's proposal to issue the report without a public meeting. Then, they voted down his proposal to distribute it at a meeting, but with rules limiting board members to discussing only the DuPont report and not other matters.

Bresland refused to explain exactly what other matter he or the other board members wanted to discuss at such a meeting. But previously, board members tabled -- for possible vote at the next public board meeting -- a proposal to strip Moure-Eraso of his ability to handle certain agency personnel matters. That proposal was made after Moure-Eraso hired his own lawyer to act as the board chairman's counsel.

In an e-mail interview, Moure-Eraso said he is concerned that other board members "have differing views on how the agency should be governed, the authority of the chairman, the priority among different investigations, and the role of the CSB in making specific regulatory and oversight recommendations.

"None of these issues related at all to the DuPont report and would simply distract from what the residents of Charleston and Belle communities are interested in hearing," Moure-Eraso said. "That's why I've been seeking to make the CSB DuPont report available to the public as soon as possible and have a meeting focused on that topic -- just like all our previous CSB public meetings in West Virginia and elsewhere."

Board members are now considering a proposal by Moure-Eraso to issue the DuPont report and hold a 45-day public comment period, without a public hearing.

"I recommend prompt approval of this notation item, in part because the board has not yet been able to agree on the exact terms of a public meeting in Charleston, WV, on the DuPont-Belle incidents," Moure-Eraso said in a June 8 memo to the board.

"The draft report contains vital safety information on the handling of highly toxic compressed gases, including phosgene," the memo said. "I believe the CSB has a compelling duty to make this information available to the public, the industry, and regulators, without further delay, as failure to do so may pose a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety."

Board votes, which are conducted privately, are not due until June 22.

This is the second time that the public release of a major board report on a Kanawha Valley plant has been delayed. The release of a report on the August 2008 explosion that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute ran into numerous delays.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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