Thursday, February 11, 2010

Emergency Response Communications

There is an interesting article over at that describes the problems that result when a chemical facility fails to communicate with the emergency response teams that they expect to support the facility. The article reports that ambulances will no longer be automatically dispatched to chemical facilities in Kanawha County when emergency calls are received. The new rules are a result of the recent refusal of DuPont officials to tell responding ambulance personnel if an emergency call on January 23rd was due to a chemical leak until the ambulance was on the Belle, WV plant grounds. It turned out that they were responding to an injury that resulted from the release of phosgene on the site. The late notification prevented the emergency response personnel from taking appropriate self-protective measures. Kanawha County officials will now dispatch ambulances to a ‘staging area’ a mile from chemical facilities and hold them there until the facility provides complete information about the incident including information about chemicals involved. There is no word about how county officials will verify that the provided information is complete. Similar rules will apply to other emergency response personnel including law enforcement and fire fighting personnel. In my opinion, this is an unfortunate, but wholly appropriate response to the failure of both DuPont and Bayer CropScience to fully communicate information about recent incidents to the emergency response community. The timely assistance of off-site emergency response personnel is critical to the safe operation of any chemical facility. Poisoning the relationship with those personnel by failing to fully communicate appropriate chemical safety information is inexcusable, self-defeating and borders upon criminal. Worse yet, this type of incident only feeds the anti-chemical industry attitudes of many activist and is at least partially responsible for the calls for the government to control what chemicals high-risk facilities can use in their manufacturing processes. There is little wonder that large portions of the public mistrust the chemical industry.

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