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Tragedies In Texas: Why Senators Say New Chemical Safety Rules Are Needed

Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jason Reyes walks past the site of an apartment complex destroyed by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Photo by REUTERS /POOL/LANDOV

Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jason Reyes walks past the site of an apartment complex destroyed by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington.

Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington. Some senators are pressing for quick action to reduce the risk of deadly chemical leaks and explosions. They wanted to know if there’s been any progress since President Obama issued an executive order to improve chemical safety, an order that followed the fertilizer explosion in the city of West.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said she was disappointed that “little progress” had been made.

“And we know there are problems because they keep happening. And people are dying, and people are going to the hospital,” said Boxer.

Other members of the Senate committee used a recent example of yet another deadly chemical accident.

“We’ve had tragedies like the DuPont Chemical plant in La Porte Texas. And these incidents aren’t limited to Texas, they’re a national problem,” said Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota.

The deadly accidents at the DuPont plant last month and in West last year were used as examples of why new federally-enforced rules are needed. The rules would compel companies to identify risks and come up with procedures to protect workers and nearby residents.

David Michaels with the Department of Labor testified that in both Texas calamities, people killed were people who’d rushed in to help: in West, volunteer firefighters and in La Porte, fellow workers.

“These workers are heroes. And they deserve that,” Michaels told the committee.

He said workers deserve comprehensive nationwide standards which he promised that regulators would be proposing next year. Industry groups contend new regulations are not needed.

Also released today was an analysis by the Congressional Research Service prepared for Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts. It found that Texas has more facilities with dangerous chemicals than any other state.

The Texas Public Interest Research Group said the report was important to Texas where earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now governor-elect, stirred controversy by ordering information on dangerous chemicals compiled by the Department of State Health Services be kept secret from the public for security reasons.

Comments

  • ChrisPA

    Safety starts at the top of an organization.

    This takes management commitment, worker buy in and of course
    resources which means cash. The recent trend in the corporation starts
    with Ellen Kullman. Her record in safety is amongst the worst of any
    CEO to ever lead the company. She has taken large bonuses and at the
    same time cut workers and the resources to put safety first.

    Many times DuPont takes the “blame the worker” stance on incidents
    and issues. This tends to be self serving and does not really address
    the issues going on in the corporation. Under her leadership the trend
    has been one of a knee jerk reaction and is evident in this most recent
    tragedy. The statement that we will do a “top to bottom investigation”
    is such a reaction. Where was the commitment before the incident? the
    resources? the preventative maintenance? the inspection and all of the
    other key elements in a good Process Safety Management (PSM) program?
    It would be interesting to see if there have been cuts at the plant
    recently especially in light of the attempt to spin off its performance
    chemicals.

    The real issues are never addressed when she sends Aaron Woods to the
    podium as her PR puppet, to make blanket statements such as “safety is a
    core value”. Mr Woods knows nothing of PSM and his statements are to
    fend off litigation that always follows tragedy.This does nothing to
    protect the workers.

    The recent trend within the corporation has been of increased
    incidents increased exposures, and sadly increased deaths. The company
    continues to spew toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. Is this the kind
    of “core value” you want in your company? Is the the kind of chemical
    company you want in your back yard?

    Kullman has been oddly quiet on this most recent issue, only
    offering Mr.Woods statement to the public. You would expect a great
    leader to step forward and share the blame for this declining safety.
    The public should be outraged that this leader in safety would have all
    the releases and incident shown to have occurred at La Porte and all
    other sites within the corporation.

    If this corporation wants to be a leader in safety then changes are
    needed and this may start with new management, including a new CEO, one
    that truly wants the “core values they rhetorically state in all
    statements releases by the company.

    Changes are needed before even more devastating incidents happen within DuPont.

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