Saturday, January 29, 2005

On Chemical Sector Security

Truth Out has published a story about allegations in former EPA Executive Christie Whitman's new book, It's My Party Too. Whitman is reported to have charged the chemical industry, along with key Republican lawmakers, of gutting new security regulations for chemical plants that are needed after the 9/11 attacks.

Whitman says she grew so frustrated that she formally asked the White House to "relieve EPA of its lead responsibility for reducing the vulnerability of the chemical sector to attack."

American Chemistry Council spokeswoman Kate McGloon said she was "surprised by the tone of her comments" and said the council supported federal security regulations but expressed grave "concern about putting the responsibility for those kinds of decisions in not-expert hands."

Having lived for twelve years near several chemical plants in Houston, I know from grievous experience to take industry statements about concerns for safety and security with a ton of salt. There were multiple explosions at chemical plants during that time. The largest explosion buffeted my car while I was driving it about a mile away from the plant. I attended a funeral for one of the many victims of that blast -- the father of a child in my church's private school. The subsequent investigation traced the cause of the explosion to a "contract" worker who turned the wrong valve as the plant was finishing a process.

It seems the company was cutting corners to avoid paying union wages (-- many people think union members are overpaid and needless sticklers over safety procedures). Instead of using the company's own highly skilled union employees for certain processes, the company out-sourced some jobs to "more efficient" private contractors. The only training these "efficient" private contractors had for a plant emergency -- like turning the wrong valve -- was instructions to literally "run." Unfortunately, many plant employees had other responsibilities that didn't give them time to either figure out which valve needed to be set right or to run.

I'm sure the people in Pasadena, Texas will be relieved to learn that responsibility for decisions about the safety and security of the chemical industry resides entirely in the expert hands of the industrialists.


Tig said...

New York times magazine section has a rather lengthy article about the shakeup in AFL-CIO. I've been a Union member for twenty-four years, but for the last ten years, if not longer, labor leaders have not been a help they've been a burden. This article makes sense. Until labor leaders stop acting like pampered CEO's of a corporation, and start fighting what's happening, it is only going to get worse. Wal-martification is happening everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I remember when the patriot act first came to light. The law specified that documents that were normally availble under FOIA or local Sunshine Laws, might {emphasis on might} be available in a reading room, where one could not make copies in the interests of national security.

Knowing what a plant produces, and it's safety measures, it's location, it is a risk that terrorists might use it, but nothing like the hazards that local residents face when things go wrong. Are you a gambling person? Because the stakes are high.

Everyone of us, that discussed these stories knew that it was nothing more than a big fat sweet heart deal, disquised as a natl' security issue.

That these plants now outsource to non union workers who may not possess the skill or education to make safe repairs is not surprising. Hope the money they save keeps them warm in the next life.

The motto for 2005:
If you are not outraged, it's because you are not paying attention!