The Next Accident Awaits

The Next Accident Awaits

"WASHINGTON — THE United States is facing an industrial chemical safety crisis. The horrifying chemical spill that recently contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia is the latest in a relentless series of disasters and near-misses across the country.

It is clear to me, as chairman of the independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, that urgent steps are required to significantly improve the safety of the nation’s chemical industry — an industry vital to our economy, yet potentially dangerous to those who live near the thousands of facilities that process or store hazardous chemicals.

Those facilities include ones like the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., where aging, corroding pipes resulted in a huge fire in August 2012, and the fertilizer plant in West, Tex., where stores of ammonium nitrate exploded last year and laid waste to a large part of the town, killing more than a dozen people.

Sifting through chemical-plant rubble from catastrophic accidents year after year, our board has long called on regulators to require — and for industry to adopt — what is known as inherently safer technology. By this, we mean using safer designs, equipment and chemicals, minimizing the amounts of hazardous chemicals stored and used, and modifying and simplifying processes to make them as safe as practicable."

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