CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal investigators are expected to recommend next month that Kanawha County adopt new chemical plant safety regulations modeled after the strongest local program in the nation.
U.S. Chemical Safety Board officials propose a plan similar to the Industrial Safety Ordinance adopted more than a decade ago in Contra Costa County, Calif.
The ordinance aims to prevent chemical leaks and other accidents by involving industry and the community in such efforts, requiring industry to submit safety plans, and conducting audits of those plans and inspections of area plants. These efforts have been credited with a steady decline in major chemical accidents in Contra Costa County and the city of Richmond, Calif.
Chemical Safety Board investigators came up with the proposal for creation of a similar program in Kanawha County as part of their final report on the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at Bayer CropScience's plant in Institute. Board members plan to release the final report at a public meeting in Institute on Jan. 20.
CSB staffers were in the Kanawha Valley this week, briefing the chemical industry, local citizens and area political leaders about the report and its draft recommendations.
Among those who met with the CSB were officials from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, one agency being considered to handle any new chemical safety program locally.
"I definitely like the idea of having something of that nature within our community," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, the Health Department's director. "When we talk about reducing the risk of additional incidents in our community, it's a good idea."
Gupta said his agency has some expertise in health impacts of toxic chemical releases, but would need to hire staff or develop in-house knowledge of the inner workings of chemical facilities. Also, he said, it's likely that creation of such a local ordinance would first require legislation by state lawmakers to allow such a move.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he would support the CSB recommendation and work to create some sort of chemical plant "user fee" so that local companies, rather than taxpayers, fund the effort.
"I anticipate this will be the board's recommendation," Carper said, "and if they recommend it, I will support it."
After meeting with the CSB staff, Bayer officials released a brief statement.