INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- Kanawha Valley leaders on Thursday night tentatively embraced the U.S. Chemical Safety Board's recommendation for a new program aimed at preventing leaks, fires and explosions at chemical plants.
Local government and public health officials, organized labor, and citizen groups spoke in favor of the proposal, which could lead to adoption of the toughest safety regulations in the nation.
But they also worried about paying for engineers and other experts to conduct safety audits, and wondered if local chemical companies would support the plan.
"I don't think it's going to be very difficult to develop a program," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. "The real question is are people going to play."
Board members recommended that Gupta's agency take on the task of developing the new program, modeled on a highly successful chemical safety law in Contra Costa County, Calif.
The proposal was the central recommendation in the CSB's long-awaited final report on the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.
Generally, such a proposal would require companies to submit safety plans, require regular government safety audits of plans, and give the public a greater say in monitoring safety performance at local companies. Theoretically, the program would be funded by a fee paid by companies that make, use and store dangerous chemicals.
And in a change from draft reports circulated earlier in the day, the board at Thursday night's meeting said it wanted the Kanawha health department to take on the duty of policing chemical safety across West Virginia.
Board members want the local agency to work with the state Department of Health and Human Resources to develop the plan, but take the lead on it statewide.
Board members unanimously approved the recommendation Thursday evening at a public meeting attended by more than 150 people at West Virginia State University.