Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reader Comments – 03-08-09 – IST Comments

We had a comment on each of two separate IST blog posts from last week posted to the blog on Sunday. Both were posted by Anonymous; though it is possible that they are from two different people using the Anonymous tag. Since both posts deal with IST I’ll add this to the ongoing series of blogs on this topic. Other blogs in the series include:

Writing IST Legislation Reader Comment – 02-24-09
What Standard to Apply for IST - Limits
What Standard to Apply for IST – Cost Estimates


The first comment was appended to my blog about SOCMA and a list of their resources on IST. Anonymous asked: “Have you previously posted resources for those supporting IST?” and pointed towards AICHE as a potential source. I have not listed any specific information from either AICHE or the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) as I have not seen either organization weigh in on the IST debate. Both organizations have certainly got plenty of information on Inherently Safer Technology as a tool for process safety.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, there is no reputable member of the process chemical industry that has ever opposed IST as one of many process safety tools that should be routinely involved in the evaluation of chemical process safety. But that is not what the ‘IST debate’ is about.

To date the IST debate has been about different issues depending on the side of the debate. On one hand many advocacy groups correctly point out that there is no such thing as absolute security. This means that the only way to completely protect the innocent population around a chemical facility from the effects of a PIH release that would result from a successful terrorist attack is to remove the PIH chemical or greatly reduce the volume on site.

The chemical industry, on the other hand, argues that the government (and certainly not DHS in particular) does not have the expertise necessary to adequately evaluate what manufacturing process is used at a chemical facility. Add to those disparate stands a deep mistrust for the motives of the other side and you have a debate with little middle ground.

That is one of the things that I am trying to develop is a middle ground where both sides of the issue can meet and find something to agree upon. That is the only way that a workable political solution will be found. Now to answer the unasked question; why did I recommend an obviously anti-IST reference site but did not include a pro-IST site?

I have covered IST proponents (and will continue to do so) in the past, most notably the CAP Chemical Security 101 site which is probably the most effective pro-IST political document to date. The reason that I mentioned the SOCMA site is that they have not addressed their concerns to the wider public, relying instead on direct political action (that dirty word: lobbying) and preaching to the choir (the process chemical industry). To get a real debate going both sides need to know the arguments that the other is making.

IST Standards 

The second comment, appended to the first IST Standards blog, gets to the heart of the pro-IST argument. Anonymous makes the statement that: “Giving chemical management any kind of discretion (for anything) e.g., to determine what is acceptable in the market, is a poison pill for IST.”

The comment goes on to use the railroad re-routing issue (certainly a form of IST) as an example of how allowing market factors to dominate the decision process destroys any hope of increased safety for the public. This mistrust of the management of chemical facilities certainly has its roots in a long history of unsafe actions and cover-ups at many notorious chemical facilities.

Unfortunately, these actions are not limited to the past. One only has to look to the litany of incidents investigated by the Chemical Safety Board to see that there are many legitimate concerns about process safety at many facilities around the country. This country does run on a regulated market economy. This means that corporate managers have a two fold responsibility. First they have a responsibility to their owners (shareholders in most cases) to ensure a reasonable rate of return on their investments. They also have a responsibility to society (through the government) to protect the health and safety of their workers, neighbors and customers.

Both responsibilities are legally defined by the Federal government. One thing that is certain, any company that cannot turn a profit by manufacturing a given product will eventually get out of the business of selling that product or go out of business. There are certainly a number of IST techniques that are technically feasible, but that cannot be economically implemented. The cost of implementing and operating those safer techniques are too high to be able to sell the resulting products at a profit.

Likewise, there are techniques that can be implemented at a profitable return; though the business idealist would like to think that these would have already been implemented as part of sound business practice. Likely, most of the IST initiatives fall into the gray area in between; they are neither obviously profitable nor obviously unprofitable. This is the area that needs to be carefully addressed in any successful IST legislation. Management is going to have to be responsible for conducting this evaluation and economic factors must play an important part in that evaluation. But, in the words of Ronal Reagan, we need to ‘trust and verify’ the results of that evaluation.

 This is why any successful IST legislation must include provisions for submission of a detailed IST report by the facility management and a technical evaluation of that report. DHS does not have the manpower nor the process or business knowledge to conduct that evaluation. That is why there needs to be provisions for an outside, technically qualified, agency to evaluate those reports. This could be done under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences or even contracted out to some group like the CCPS. In any case, only a dispassionate educated review of both the technical and economic feasibility will help keep the reports honest.

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