In the midst of this water emergency, many people want to know what we can do to prevent incidents like these from reoccurring. Many ideas come to my mind; none so much as massive chemical safety reform.
For the third time in five years, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is headed to the Kanawha Valley for an investigation. Nearing the fourth anniversary of DuPont's fatal phosgene release, I can't help but wonder, would this have happened had the Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program (HCRPP) been implemented as recommended to West Virginia officials by the CSB and others not once, not twice, not three, but four times?
The answer is: Maybe. But once again, its significance resurfaces in the light of this new disaster.
The Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program would help prevent the release of hazardous chemicals and improve the way we respond to these events by performing annual third-party safety audits involving public health officials and other stakeholders in chemical safety. The HCRPP is modeled after the Contra Costa County, California Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO). In California, it has minimized the severity of chemical incidents greatly. So why haven't we implemented it?
In June 2009, I recommended to the Legislature that we needed a bill modeling the Contra Costa County ISO when no major steps were taken to ensure public safety after the fatal 2008 Bayer CropScience explosion. The bill died in a study resolution.
The second time a program like this was recommended was in January 2011 in the CSB's final report on the Bayer CropScience explosion in Institute that killed two workers. In the year between my recommendation and theirs, another worker died, this time at the DuPont facility during a January 2010 phosgene release.
The CSB investigation on this incident prompted the third recommendation.
The fourth recommendation came directly from Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in a Charleston Gazette opinion piece after the National Academy of Science released its report investigating the use of inherently safer technology and methyl isocyanate (MIC) storage at the Institute plant. What do you think the CSB is going to recommend this time?