Saturday, May 15, 2010

CSB IST Study Comments 05-14-10

On Friday the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) posted a new document link to their Open Government web page to replace the two earlier documents that provided copies of comments that they had received about their proposal for a National Academy of Sciences study of the use of methyl isocyanate at the Bayer CropScience facility outside of Institute, WV. The purpose of that study is to determine if it is possible to use an inherently safer technology (IST) technique to further reduce or eliminate the storage of MIC at that facility. The Politics of the Study While Congress tasked the CSB to specifically look at the Bayer situation, the CSB formulated their proposal to first have the NAS investigation establish a methodology for evaluating IST techniques. In the long run, this methodology will probably be more politically significant than the application of that method to the CropScience facility. This is especially true as Congress continues to consider as part of the permanent authorization of the CFATS process requiring high-risk chemical facilities to conduct their own IST evaluation. This political situation is certainly reflected in the variety of organizations that contributed to the 28 responses contained in this document. Only four of the comments come from the immediately affected West Virginia community and this includes the Bayer response. Most of the remaining comments come from organizations from both sides of the IST political debate. As I noted in an earlier blog, this is not only appropriate given the proposed scope of the study, but politically important. A rigorously developed methodology for evaluating the relative effectiveness of IST technique that takes into account both the technical and financial issues will go a long way in refining the debate on the IST in CFATS debate. Combined with the soon to be released science-based definition of IST from the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) this study should provide a detailed, practical basis for the political discussion so that it can move beyond the current philosophical realm; there being no potential short-term resolution to the philosophical differences between the two sides. Study Design CSB now has the difficult task of formulating their formal requirements for this study. They must take into account the issues identified in the conflicting comments received from the larger community as well as the separate requirements of the local issues at the Bayer facility. It might actually be best if they task the NAS with establishing two separate panels. The first would be tasked with the methodology development task while the second would be responsible for implementing that methodology on the specific facts associated with the Bayer CropScience facility. The first panel would have technical experts from academia and organizations like CCPS. Organizations on both sides of the political debate should also provide technical representation on this panel. Additionally, this panel should include some representation that could specifically address the financial analysis questions that will inevitably need to be addressed in the methodology. The second panel would need to be more focused on the specific needs of the local debate. The bulk of the panel would again be technical experts without a specific interest in the local situation. The panel should also include representatives from Bayer, the local government, and the local community advocacy groups. The Way Forward What is not yet clear is how the CSB intends to handle further public discussion of this study formulation process. One school of thought would have the CSB provide a copy of the final draft proposal for additional public comment; roughly the equivalent of posting a ‘final rule’ in the Federal Register. This would be a formal recognition of the political nature of this proposed study. Those that would look at this as a strictly scientific endeavor would note that CSB has already provided more than enough public comment opportunities and further delay would serve no legitimate purpose. I tend to fall more into the middle ground. While I think that further debate might be beneficial, I think that the political need for the IST evaluation methodology is so great that further delays for more discussion is not warranted. I would like to see the CSB post a copy of the formal study requirements on their web site when they send it to the NAS. This would allow for a parallel political discussion to take place while the formal study gets under way.

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