Monday, January 24, 2011

CSB Report on Bayer CropScience Accident

Last Thursday, at a public meeting in Institute, WV, the Chemical Safety Board approved their final report into the investigation of the deadly explosion at the nearby Bayer CropScience facility in 2008. According to a CSB press release, the “CSB found multiple deficiencies during a lengthy startup process that resulted in a runaway chemical reaction inside a residue treater pressure vessel”.

I had earlier reported that there might be a discussion of the National Academy of Sciences study commissioned to review the consideration of inherently safer technology for the Bayer CropScience facility. That discussion did not happen. That may have been because of a recent report by Bayer that they would stop manufacture, storage and use of methyl iscocyanate (MIC) at the West Virginia facility within the next 18 months. There has been no public discussion of how that announcement will affect the conduct of the NAS investigation.

One of the specific recommendations made by the Board would end up having a major effect on the chemical process industry if it were widely adopted. CSB recommended the establishment of a state level “Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program” modeled on the program in Contra Costa County in California. Noting that OSHA and EPA have inadequate resources to enforce their safety programs, CSB Chairperson Dr. Moure-Eraso is quoted as saying that “local jurisdictions can put together highly effective and targeted inspection and enforcement programs, funded by levies on the plants themselves”.

Industry has long resisted such efforts at local regulation of chemical safety and security. They note that such patchwork regulations make it difficult to manage multiple facilities. I think that the problem with such regulations is that they make the protection of industrial neighbors dependent on the expertise and gumption of local governments. Adequate enforcement of existing OSHA and EPA regulations would be a much better solution because it should provide protection for people around all chemical facilities, not just a few select areas.

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