Sustained Outrage

Industry starts push for ‘voluntary’ safety measures

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Photo by Tom Hindman, Charleston Daily Mail, via Associated Press

It was interesting this week to start seeing some media coverage of the chemical industry’s efforts to begin pushing its voluntary “Responsible Care” program, timed oddly right as a new West Virginia commission is to take up, among other things, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommendation for a new local chemical accident prevention program.

For example, WCHS-TV did a story on a chemical industry meeting in which on-air personality Kennie Bass served on a panel that discussed the fallout from the January chemical spill at Freedom Industries:

The West Virginia Manufacturers Association and three national chemical industry trade groups teamed up to present the forum, which focused on government and media response to the freedom industries water disaster.

The panelists included West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Director Randy Huffman, Kanawha County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Dale Petry and Eyewitness News Reporter Kennie Bass, representing media who covered the water crisis.

Topics included how the local and state first responders dealt with the water shortage, how information was gathered and reported by journalists and what we have learned in case a similar disaster happens.

Dean Cordle, president and CEO of AC & S incorporated said it is part of the industries “responsible care.”

“The purpose of today’s event is to bring together the community leaders and industry and talk about safe practices that are currently being employed in the chemical industry,” Cordle said. “And to broaden our program called responsible care to include some of those smaller companies that can benefit from practices that we employ.”

I had heard of this event and checked in last week, but was told by the American Chemistry Council, one of the co-sponsors, that it was not open to the media.

Interestingly enough, Dean Cordle of AC&S Inc. showed up at a meeting of the Daily Mail’s editorial board that produced this story:

Chemical industry executives advocated for industry-driven safety practices during a workshop hosted by the West Virginia Manufacturing Association on Monday.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Chemical Process Safety joined state agencies and community leaders in Charleston for a day of discussion and workshops aimed at encouraging companies to improve safety practices by joining industry safety cooperatives.

And, predictably, the story led to a Daily Mail editorial headlined, Responsible Care:  Companies self regulate better than government:

When folks in the Kanawha Valley and elsewhere in West Virginia woke up on the morning of Jan. 9, 2014, few of them had ever heard of Freedom Industries.

And had Freedom Industries’ management taken the steps to become certified as a Responsible Distribution company, there’s a strong probability that most of us would still have never heard of the company that was providing specialty chemicals to the coal industry. That company likely would still be quietly serving its customers and 300,000 West Virginians likely wouldn’t have experienced contaminated water due to a leaking Freedom Industries’ tank a half-mile upstream of the area’s only public water supply intake.

Chemical manufacturing and distribution companies who employ standards set by the Responsible Care and Responsible Distribution industry initiatives are more likely to identify gaps in environmental health, safety and security practices before they become costly and dangerous incidents.

Freedom’s loose standards and poor operating practices caused a bad mark on the entire West Virginia chemical industry, but the industry is largely comprised of reputable companies who go to great lengths to operate safely and responsibly.

No mention was made of the incident at the AC&S facility in Nitro, W.Va., back in June 2012, in which a worker was killed. As described in a previous Gazette story:

AC&S Inc., a Nitro chemical manufacturer, has been cited for 12 serious violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a June accident that led to the asphyxiation death of Rex Wilcoxen, one of the company’s workers.

According to a news release dated Wednesday, Wilcoxen was sandblasting at the plant using an air hood that was mistakenly hooked up to a nitrogen line. He lost consciousness, OSHA said, and was taken to a Charleston hospital, where he died.

In visits the next month, investigators from OSHA’s Charleston office said they found a number of other unsafe conditions at the AC&S facility, located at 150 Plant Road.

The agency set penalties of $42,700 for the reported violations and ordered the company to fix the problems.

AC&S settled the case with OSHA, agreeing to pay $30,800 of the fines.