Monday, February 9, 2009

New SOCMA Approach to IST

The Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA) has long opposed mandatory application of inherently safer technology (IST) as a method of reducing the risk of terrorist attack on high-risk chemical facilities. I have noted that I thought that their attacks on IST were politically short-sighted and unpersuasive. Last Friday they took a slightly different tact in a posting on; they started explaining some of the problems associated with an imposed IST requirement. IST as Chemical Engineering Anyone that has experience in working in the chemical process industry is familiar with the concept of IST. Every time that a new chemical process is introduced into a facility or modified at that facility a series of safety reviews are conducted. Reviews are conducted on new hazardous chemicals, on the storage and handling of those chemicals, and finally on the process where the chemicals will be used. Any reputable chemical company will automatically consider a wide variety of inherently safer technologies to help reduce safety risks associated with hazardous chemicals. Chemical engineers, chemists, industrial hygienists, regulatory affairs personnel, and hourly employees will all be involved in that process. Unfortunately, the term ‘reputable chemical company’ does not necessarily cover all facilities that handle hazardous chemicals. There are a large number of facilities that use hazardous chemicals that are not considered to be chemical facilities and lack the staff, training, and regulatory requirement to conduct these extensive safety evaluations. There are other facilities that lack the funds and expertise. Finally there are facilities that just cannot be bothered to expend the time or money. An aggressive enforcement effort of existing chemical safety laws by EPA and OSHA would bring many of these facilities into line. IST as Chemical Security What is new is the security aspect of IST. As more companies are coming to face the reality of increased security costs associated with the COI listed in Appendix A to 6 CFR 27, many are re-evaluating the cost-benefit analysis of many alternative processing methods and techniques. In many cases changing chemicals or processes in ways that were too expensive are now becoming economically viable when security costs are included in the calculations. What concerns organizations like SOCMA and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is that many people that are pushing the IST requirement see it as the be all and end all of chemical safety and security. Many IST supporters see these requirements in new regulations forcing most users of many hazardous chemicals, poison inhalation hazard (PIH) chemicals in particular, to get rid of these chemicals without due consideration of the economic viability of doing so. Realistic Compromise As in many political arguments today (and this is, at its most essential, a political argument) neither side seems to be willing to listen to and address the legitimate concerns of the other side. What is required is a workable, realistic compromise and a reduction in the volume of the rhetoric. Such a compromise would have to be based on the following principals:
Every high-risk chemical facility owes it to its owners, its workers, and its neighbors to periodically re-evaluate its use of DHS COI to see if there are safer chemicals or process changes that can reduce the potential safety and security risks associated with the use of those high-risk chemicals. Many of the technical and business calculations that will go into the evaluation will be facility specific. Personnel without the appropriate technical background will be ill equipped to second guess those decisions. An independent technical body should be formed to provide for an appropriate technical review of decisions not to implement IST alternatives. In areas where there exists an extraordinary hazard to a large civilian population, the government should consider the use of financial incentives to implement IST provisions that are not otherwise economically viable or to move the facility to another location.
Industry owes it to their owners and employees to remain viable economic concerns. It does not appear that blind opposition to IST will prevail in the current political climate. Therefore industry needs to work with IST proponents to work out a program that will be economically viable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Next step: concede that re-routing through cargoes of WMD chemicals like chlorine and ammonia onto available alternative routes is only the most elementary IST for the transportation sector? The public and legislative opinion on this also has already shifted:
This is the text at the heart of the new [badly flawed] federal re-routing rule: (which won’t protect major cities , but at least it introduces the “radical” idea that the US government could [and might, under Obama] tell the railroads to adjust their routes – in this case, for homeland security purposes. So offers a [limited] platform for a way forward )

"The Secretary of Transportation shall ensure that the final regulation requires each railroad carrier transporting security-sensitive materials in commerce to annually review and select the practicable route posing the least overall safety and security risk in accordance with this section." (good strong language expressing a new national consensus in H.R. 1, but not overall a strong law in that it leaves the railroads in charge of implementation)

And, as CSXT suggested already in the federal docket, since 9/11 the US public has reconsidered what is an acceptable risk:
“The support of the public, and of many policy makers, has greatly eroded since 9/11. Now the railroads are harshly criticized for transporting these [TIH, or “ Toxic by Inhalation” poison gas cargoes] …Our company’s reputation has been assailed…[and] vilified in the media. TIH cannot simply continue to move by railroad indefinitely…Even if the potential for ruinous liability were somehow erased, the widespread social disapproval of TIH transport by rail would remain.”

Railroads have asked Congress to grant them a federal indemnification from liability, since they cannot get adequate insurance from private insurance companies.

The PBS NOW! report cited below is the best short intro to the issue. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The national PBS story, while excellent, unfortunately does not mention the 11 target cities which have introduced WMD re-routing ordinances.
Click on “Toxic Trains” story on June 30, 2006. An excellent 15 minute introduction to the issue.

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