Chemical firms, others warn White House on safer tech mandate

24 January 2014 18:12 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Chemicals producers, refiners and other manufacturers and businesses on Friday urged the White House to avoid mandates for use of inherently safer technologies (IST) in improving facility security, warning that such a rule would create an impossible burden.

In a joint letter to President Barack Obama, a group of 13 industry and business associations raised concerns that a special task force established by Obama last year to examine improving security and safety at chemical sites could undermine rather than assist existing precautions and regulations.

In his 1 August 2013 executive order, Obama directed six federal departments to form an interagency working group (IWG) on improving safety and security at chemical facilities across the nation.

The task force was called together by Obama in the wake of the 17 April 2013 fatal explosion and fire at the West Fertiliser facility in Texas that killed 15 and injured some 200 others.  The blast also caused about $100m worth of damage to the small town of West, Texas.

Earlier this month, the IWG issued a detailed call for public comment on how safety and security at chemical sites might be improved, and the same document outlined multiple options for consideration.

In the lengthy document’s section on “Process Safety Improvement and Modernisation”, it was suggested that one option could be to “incorporate inherently safe technologies [IST] into risk and process safety programs”. 

That section also asked how the six agencies could “define, accomplish and measure” inherently safer technologies in the context of plant safety and security.

But in their letter to Obama, the multi-industry group said it was “strongly opposed to any proposal that will create a federal requirement to assess or implement so-called inherently safer technologies (IST)”.

“Inherently safer approaches to manufacturing processes have been and will continue to be considered by facilities as a matter of course,” the industry group said.

But “facility operators – not the government – are in the best position to understand the full ramifications of implementing IST,” it added.

“IST decisions are extremely complex and cannot be and should not be determined by any governmental agency,” the group said, adding: “The potential for creating unintended consequences is high.”

“To attempt to overlay an IST requirement would negatively impact [existing] safety and security programmes and create an impossible bureaucratic burden,” the letter said.

Among the industry groups signing the letter were the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), the American Petroleum Institute (API), The Fertiliser Institute (TFI), the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Public comments to the working group about possible safety and security options must be received by 31 March.

By Joe Kamalick