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Chemical safety lax, board chairman says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal regulators need to take much stronger action to protect workers and the public from the dangers of chemical facilities across the country, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board told Congress on Thursday.

Rafael Moure-Eraso told senators in a committee hearing that both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration need to improve their efforts.

Moure-Eraso said EPA and OSHA both need to beef up inspections, close regulatory loopholes and focus on forcing industry to use technologies that pose less risk to workers and plant neighbors.

"Time and again the CSB has found large chemical hazards -- capable of causing major disasters -- residing in facilities that have largely escaped regulatory scrutiny," Moure-Eraso told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Moure-Eraso testified as part of a hearing Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called to investigate a deadly fertilizer plant accident in Texas and a fatal chemical plant accident in Louisiana.

In West Virginia, the CSB has in recent years produced detailed reports on deadly chemical plant accidents at Bayer CropScience in Institute and DuPont Co. in Belle. A report on a December 2010 fire that killed three workers at AL Solutions in New Cumberland has yet to be released.

Paul Orum, a longtime advocate of tougher chemical safety enforcement, told the Senate committee that more needs to be done to avoid accidents, make the public aware of potential risks, and ensure companies use safer alternatives.

"Regulations should not only control problems, but also generate safer solutions," said Orum, a consultant with the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters. "Accident prevention is ultimately more effective than response."

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


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