Sustained Outrage

About Judge Goodwin’s chemical plant expert …

UPDATED: Here’s a link to a feature photo from Friday’s Gazette showing the pro-Bayer driving procession yesterday evening.

We broke a story in today’s Gazette detailing the long-standing views of Sam Mannan — the court-appointed expert in the Bayer MIC case — against government regulations to mandate chemical plants more closely consider “inherently safer technologies.”

As we explained:

A chemical engineer appointed to advise U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin about the safety of Bayer CropScience’s controversial methyl isocyanate unit has consistently opposed new rules that would push companies to reduce the use and storage of large amounts of toxic materials.

Sam Mannan of Texas A&M University has, for nearly a decade, been a critic of efforts by environmental and labor groups to force chemical companies to study and implement “inherently safer technologies” for their manufacturing plants.

Mannan has testified before Congress on the issue several times, warning lawmakers against adopting such language. At Texas A&M, he directs the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, which published a 2002 report that industry often cites in criticizing proposals for such regulations.

Last month, Mannan cautioned a House subcommittee that requiring “inherently safer technologies” might sound good, but is more complex than it sounds and could create more problems than it solves. Mannan said there is no widely accepted way of determining what “inherently safer” means, and questioned whether government regulators should try to come up with one.

“There are dangers associated with mandating a specific assessment model, or requiring an overly burdensome assessment regime,” Mannan testified at a Feb. 11 hearing of a House homeland security subcommittee.

For those who want to read more about this, some of Mannan’s congressional testimony is available here and here. And this is a link to his “White Paper” on the topic. My story in our print edition also quoted this testimony from Greenpeace’s Rick Hind and this testimony from former U.S. Chemical Safety Board member Andrea Kidd Taylor.

Based on the White Paper, Mannan’s favorite analogy seems to be comparing implementation of safer technologies at chemical plants — such as storing less of extremely toxic chemicals — to whether you live in a one- or tw0-story house or whether you install stairs in your house:

One of the most common accidents at home is falling on the stairs. A home without stairs, i.e. a onestory bungalow, is inherently safer with regard to falling on stairs than a two-story house. Even if the stairs are equipped with handrails, non-slip surfaces, good lighting, and gates for children, the hazard is still present (Kletz, 1998). Obviously the choice of an inherently safer house implies positive and negative consequences, which may include aesthetics, cost, and other types of hazards. An elevator could reduce the use of stairs but requires a large capital expense. During construction there would be significant hazards to the residents and construction workers and the stairs would still be necessary for emergency egress. Few families would conclude that installing an elevator is the best use of their resources.

And judging from his congressional testimony, Mannan has some, well, interesting ideas about why chemical companies should be careful including their workers in finding ways to protect plants from terrorists:

While I think consultations of employees and involving employees is very important and should be done, but it should be done carefully. There is a two-edged sword there, and one of the issues we deal with in anti-terrorism issues is the insider threat. In my own testimony I provided some statements as to the threat from not only al-Qaida but mutations of the organization of al-Qaida and their associations with organizations that may have ideological or different view, but maybe anti-establishment and may develop a collaboration with al-Qaida type organizations. So insider threat is an issue that is something that we need to be aware of.