Archive for August, 2009

Chemical Plant and Refinery Safety and Security

August 6, 2009

Now I’m all for safety in our chemical plants and refineries – I’ve spent most of my life working in and around them. But the NEW YORK TIMES August 3 editorial regrading pending federal legislation is just silly – and remarkably wrong.

In terms of the safety of workers and communities, the chemical industry is among the best performers, year after year, in terms of injuries and death among its workers. And although accidents may result in spectacular clouds of smoke and flame, they are exceptionally rare. The NYTimes unfortunately ignores the very real and factual safety record that is in the OSHA data for everyone to see.

The Times also perpetuates the confusion over the difference between the internal operational and engineering safety of the chemical plants themselves (which is today, and for decades has been, quite good) and security from an external – terrorist – threat.

Chemical plants and refineries are, contrary to the Times and public perception, not very vulnerable to terrorists. While a broadly destructive terrorist attack is not impossible, it would require a great deal of insider information about the configuration of a particular factory to cause much more than an on-site inconvenience. Chemical plant sites are typically isolated, and the truly vulnerable units within the site are obscure and randomly located within the welter of towers, pipes and tanks the public can see in the distance from the road.

The one area where we are particulary vulnerable is in the transportation sector. Every day, thousands of tons of potentially dangerous products travel, relatively unprotected, over our streets, highways and rails. And while exotic sounding ‘chemicals’ catch the public attention, the most truly frightening of these – in terms of the amount of destructive potential around us every day – is the gasoline that every one of us uses every day.

So by all means, spend political capital and national resources on improving public safety, but please use a bit of intelligence and common sense to spend it where it will do some real good.