State should listen to chemical experts

February 7, 2014

Following Freedom Industries’ leak of 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River and the water supply of 300,000 people, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department shut down every restaurant in town.

The department has that authority.

However, had the county and the state adopted the recommendations made by the Chemical Safety Board three years ago, the health department might have had the authority to prevent such a leak.

The chemical board investigated an explosion near the methyl isocyanate plant, which killed two workers, in 2008. After the board made its recommendations public in 2011, Kanawha County officials and a few state officials talked about adopting the recommendations, but nothing came of it.

Ignoring the advice of experts in chemical safety is a gamble no one should take.

One of the recommendations called for giving the health department the power to create a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program. Dr. Rahul Gupta, health director, favors having such a program.

“I call this a preventable crisis,” Gupta said. “Those recommendations were evidence-based.”

To this end, Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, is introducing a bill to incorporate the safety board’s recommendations.

This is not a new program. The safety board based its recommendations on a program that works that Contra Costa County, Calif., adopted in 1999.

Sanitarians in the various county and city health departments routinely inspect every restaurant in their jurisdictions, but no one takes a look at tanks that store industrial chemicals.

While Dr. Gupta has the power to close restaurants in an emergency, he needs the power to avoid such emergencies. Lawmakers should not let another year slide by in making the changes the Chemical Safety Board recommended.

Indeed, lawmakers, industry and safety experts should weed the regulations and toss out the ones that are ineffective burdens on business and society, and replace them with regulations that work.

— Daily Mail, Charleston