Agency investigators said the program could be modeled after a highly successful one in Contra Costa County, Calif. Generally, such a program would require companies to submit safety plans, require government safety audits of plants, and give the public a greater say in monitoring safety performance at local companies. The program could be funded by a fee paid by companies that make, use and store dangerous chemicals.
Local and national chemical industry lobbyists urged the CSB members to drop the proposal when they finalized the DuPont investigation report.
The American Chemistry Council said such a program "would create unnecessary redundancies, as well as the imposition of additional economic burdens on local industries, communities and state governments."
"Given the existing federal agency oversight with mandated industry regulations, we contend the West Virginia environment is better served through effective execution and compliance oversight by the current agencies," said a separate letter from Karen Price, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.
CSB officials, though, noted that inspections of local chemical plants by federal officials are rare -- the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration hadn't inspected DuPont's Belle plant for more than five years when the fatal phosgene leak occurred. A local agency would be more focused on and better able to address issues at local plants, the CSB said.
So far, though, West Virginia officials are stalling any action on the CSB recommendation.
Dr. Michael Lewis, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, has declined to use his agency's existing legal authority to help the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department set up the program. Lewis, a physician and former Union Carbide engineer, said he would instead ask the Legislature for money to study the matter further.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said last week that he's concerned the CSB recommendation isn't being moved on faster by the state. Another study isn't needed, Gupta said.
"I thought that's what the CSB did and the jury was in. They did that work for us -- why should we use taxpayer dollars to do that again?" Gupta said. "To me, it looks like a way to put the issue into a black hole."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.