Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Chemical Industry: Progressively Greater Pathology About Inherently Safer Technology

You'll recall we've written quite a bit in this blog about the debate over chemical plant security, most recently last Monday. And you'll also recall that much of the debate is whether or not a law should require chemical plants and refineries to implement, as much as possible, "inherently safety technology" in order to reduce the most serious hazards in the plants, thereby reducing its value as a terrorist target.

The chemical industry is opposed to mandating inherently safer technologies. OK, fair enough. But now they're going one step further -- playing dumb by even denying that anyone knows what it is.
Chris VandenHeuvel, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, said that many companies already employ safe technology measures. In late 2001, the council vehemently opposed a security bill that contained IST language. The legislation died on the floor of the Senate.

"It is one of the most unclear concepts out there," VandenHeuvel said. "Nobody knows what it means. Nobody would know what it looks like. Nobody would know how to do it."
Well, bullshit. He's lying. Or maybe he really is dumb. So here's a bit of help, Chris.

First, the Lautenberg-Menendez-Obama legislation that we discussed the other night lays it out pretty clearly:

(18) USE OF INHERENTLY SAFER TECHNOLOGY-

(A) IN GENERAL- The term `use of inherently safer technology' means use of a technology, product, raw material, or practice that, as compared to the technology, products, raw materials, or practices currently in use--

(i) significantly reduces or eliminates the possibility of the release of a substance of concern; and

(ii) significantly reduces or eliminates the hazards to public health and safety and the environment associated with the release or potential release of a substance described in clause (i).

(B) INCLUSIONS- The term `use of inherently safer technology' includes chemical substitution, process redesign, product reformulation, and procedural and technological modification so as to--

(i) use less hazardous or benign substances;

(ii) use a smaller quantity of a substance of concern;

(iii) moderate pressures or temperatures;

(iv) reduce the likelihood and potential consequences of human error;

(v) improve inventory control and chemical use efficiency; and

(vi) reduce or eliminate storage, transportation, handling, disposal, and discharge of substances of concern.

Then there's this example from a previous story I wrote:
Immediately after September 11, Washington D.C.’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant changed from chlorine to sodium hypochlorite, which is a strong version of bleach, but much safer. The change cost about $1 million, which translates into about 50 cents per customer more annually for sewage treatment.

"Needless to say, our neighbors were very pleased that we discontinued that practice," said Libby Lawson, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. "We had to rearrange a few of our economic priorities, but, obviously, it can be done."
Then there's this from Philadelphia:
In Philadelphia, Sunoco Inc. has set a good example by voluntarily committing to adopt a safer refining process by 2008 to protect its South Philadelphia neighbors. It will cost $61 million. Company officials said the new process, long sought by community residents and environmentalists, would reduce the potential drift of a "worst-case" toxic cloud from 25 miles to six. (more on that here.)
Here are a couple of examples from Obama's press release:
  • In Cheshire, Ohio, American Electric Power selected a urea-based pollution control system rather than one involving large-scale storage of ammonia that would have endangered the surrounding community.
  • In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, ALCOA reduced its potential off-site impact by working with local emergency planners and ending on-site storage of hydrofluoric acid and nitric acid.
In other words, Chris, you're lying. Or maybe you're just incredibly ignorant, in which case, allow me to introduce you to Google. Happy searching.

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