I'm aware that some West Virginians view regulations on businesses with some skepticism and disapproval, and are reluctant to support increased government oversight if it might discourage economic activity or job creation. While our investigation of this leak will examine regulatory gaps, it seems evident to me already that an investment in reasonable local regulations and safety inspections would have been well paid for by preventing the high cost of massive personal and business interruptions, the anxiety stemming from the threat to a basic necessity of life, and avoiding the potential health effects - as yet unknown - of the contamination that thousands faced.
As a supplement to a county safety agency, the public and its representatives might consider what we call the safety case model, as discussed in a recent draft CSB report on a California refinery accident. With input from the public and workers, companies draw up a written case for how they will prevent accidents. A competent regulatory agency then audits how the safety case is being executed. This model typically requires facilities to adopt safer designs, processes and equipment to reduce risk as low as practicable. In the case of Freedom Industries, this might have required modern tank designs with double walls and leak detection, corrosion-resistant materials, and regular inspection programs.
Transparency is crucial to public safety and accident prevention. I believe the public must be informed about potentially threatening chemical hazards and given an opportunity to speak up and demand action.
My guess is that had any of the 300,000 residents affected by the contamination known in advance that aging chemical tanks were just upstream of their drinking water source, they would have demanded inspections, maintenance and assurances from the company and relevant authorities.
As an agency, we are highly respectful of this great state, its people and institutions. We make recommendations as part of our mandate, and we don't do it lightly. Chemical accidents have now brought us to your state for the fifth time, beginning with the tragic January 2007 propane explosion at the Little General store in Ghent, which took the lives of four people and injured six others. There was the Bayer accident that killed two, and several at DuPont in Belle, where a worker was killed by exposure to phosgene gas when a hose ruptured. These were all preventable accidents.
We are committed to accident prevention and saving lives, but truth to tell, the best prevention starts with informed and concerned citizens, and I believe it's time to act.
Moure-Eraso is chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.