Manufacturers and distributors have a compelling self-interest to educate value chain members and other communities on chemicals process safety, distribution and use, says Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
“I think it is increasingly important for manufacturers and distributors in the chemicals sector to be working together to ensure that we are contributing to the safest production, distribution and use of chemicals in commerce,” he says.
Dooley, a keynote speaker at this year’s NACD annual meeting, says the pressing need for cooperation is increasingly apparent because the entire chemicals value chain so often is held hostage by events beyond its control.
“When we look at the reputational vulnerabilities facing the chemicals industry,” Dooley says, “it is incumbent on us and our two associations to collaborate, to expand the number of companies in the value chain that will embrace the best practices that mitigate harm to the environment, the health and safety of employees and the communities in which they work.”
He cites the January 2014 leak of an estimated 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (4-MCHM) from a Freedom Industries storage tank on the banks of the Elk River, a breakdown that contaminated the water supply of Charleston, West Virginia, the state capital, denying fresh water supplies to some 300,000 residents for three days.
Dooley also refers to the explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas, in April 2013 that killed 12 emergency responders and three civilians, injured more than 150 residents of the nearby town and caused about $230m-worth of damage in the area.
The West Fertilizer disaster was especially noteworthy because the site seemingly operated below the radar of federal and state regulators and process safety officials in government and the private sector.
According to investigators and testimony before Congress, the incident began with a fire of unknown origin in one of the facility’s warehouses, and it soon ignited some 30 tonnes of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate (AN).
In congressional hearings, testimony indicated the West facility lacked even basic, fundamental precautions, such as a sprinkler system or other means to detect and suppress a fire automatically.
In addition, witnesses noted the AN was stored in combustible wooden bins, and significant amounts of combustible seeds were stored in the same warehouse.
In all, it was a set of circumstances that would violate multiple tenets of both ACC’s Responsible Care© program and NACD’s Responsible Distribution® standards.
Dooley notes that, unsurprisingly, neither Freedom Industries nor West Fertilizer was a member of ACC or NACD. But the broader chemicals industry nonetheless was painted with the disasters’ brush.
That is why, Dooley says, “the chemicals sector must proactively engage with regulators and community leaders as well as industry to educate and demonstrate that our associations are committed to facilitating more companies in the chemical value chain and have them embrace the best practices that ensure that we all protect the environment, health and safety in the production and use of our chemical products.”
That goal was reflected in the September 8 workshop in Charleston, WV, hosted by NACD, ACC and the West Virginia Manufacturers Association. The day-long session also included training by the New York City-based Center for Chemical Process Safety, a unit of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers.
Key to that workshop and an example to be emulated, says Dooley, was the participation by West Virginia manufacturing companies not directly involved in the chemicals manufacturing or distribution sectors.
“Part of our commitment in West Virginia is to work with state associations, which have members that are not aligned with our associations, not part of our Responsible Care and Responsible Distribution programs,” he says.
“It helps to identify companies that could benefit and to create venues and opportunities for us to provide education and exposure to our programs and other practices that enhance process safety,” he adds.
SPREADING THE WORD
Dooley says the ACC and NACD are not reaching out to other companies in the chemistry supply chain or to broader industry players as a recruitment effort, but to spread the word of process safety.
“Our industry is poised to make hundreds of billions of dollars in investments across this country, including West Virginia, over the next decade,” Dooley says, “so it is important that we demonstrate broadly our sincere commitment to work to enhance the utilization of process safety practices that contribute to safer manufacture, distribution and use of chemicals.”
It is perhaps doubly important because in the wake of the West Fertilizer disaster President Barack Obama issued a wide-ranging executive order (EO) in August last year aimed at ramping-up attention among federal, state and local agencies to risks posed by chemicals in commerce.
The EO directed five cabinet-level departments – including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security – along with 11 additional federal agencies and scores, perhaps hundreds, of state and local entities to come up with “joint collaborative programs” on managing chemicals safety.
The EO also sought to coordinate “jurisdictional responsibilities and regulatory programs to achieve a more comprehensive engagement on chemical risk management.”
On the one hand, says NACD treasurer Doug Brown, that executive order might serve to eliminate duplicative regulatory programs or consolidate multiple and overlapping federal agency jurisdictions and rules.
But on the other hand, Brown observed in an earlier interview, “it is entirely possible that the executive order will result in still more regulations.”
That is why, says Dooley, “through Responsible Care and Responsible Distribution we have to be fully committed to be part of an effort that clearly provides information on the best practices and codes that make up our programs”.
That commitment, he says, will broaden to include industry-focused guidance by ACC and NACD member companies.
“We have member companies that are willing to serve as mentors, to provide guidance and resource information to those companies that are not affiliated with our associations,” he says.
“That’s our commitment, to be a resource, to make a difference in the safe manufacturing, distribution and use of chemicals. We have a great history of ACC and NACD collaborating in our Responsible Care and Responsible Distribution programs, and we can build on that.
“With our new Responsible Care codes adopted last year,” adds Dooley, “our Responsible Care committee is looking at whether greater guidance can be provided revolving around our customers.
“We want to be engaging our customers to make sure that their process safety practices are up to speed, to provide support to companies throughout the chemicals value chain and to work with NACD to enhance the adoption of process safety practices.”
He points out that ACC is developing guidance documents and resource links to help the customers of chemicals producers and distributors to implement process safety practices better.
Again citing the West Fertilizer tragedy, Dooley says critics of the industry “tried to exploit that disaster to encourage the Obama administration to expand its regulatory oversight and scope for the regulation of chemicals in commerce, perhaps to include a federal mandate for inherently safer technology as part of the regulatory framework.”
“So that is where Responsible Care and Responsible Distribution can demonstrate a clear track record, showing that the industry can mitigate environmental health and safety incidents,” he says, “enabling us to be more effective in influencing a judicious use of regulations by federal and state agencies.”
Dooley says ACC and NACD are cooperating on “a host of legislative issues on Capitol Hill”.
FOCUS ON TSCA
Chief among them is the work that has been going on to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal federal statute and program governing chemicals in commerce.
All sides agree the 38-year-old TSCA is badly in need of a broad update to reflect modern testing and scientific criteria that simply were not available a generation ago.
“We have been working very closely with NACD and others on this,” he says, “and NACD has given terrific support and has made significant contributions in the effort to reform TSCA.”
He says ACC and NACD are working closely together on trying to secure reforms at the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that oversees freight rates and other rail carrier issues.
“We need to achieve changes,” says Dooley, “that will create a more efficient and equitable freight rates resolution process.”
No less important is work being done by the two associations in the effort to secure long-term reauthorization for the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), the federal program that establishes counter-terrorism security criteria for chemical production, storage and transit points that may be at high risk for an attack by terrorists seeking to cause major off-site casualties and damage.
The US House of Representatives has passed a bill giving CFATS a three-year extension, a goal long-sought by producers and distributors that want a reasonable period of regulatory certainty and stability for planning and budget reasons.
But the US Senate has yet to act on a parallel bill, and that too is something ACC and NACD will focus on in the months ahead.
In all, says Dooley, ACC member firms and member companies of NACD are “facing a terrific opportunity along the entire chemicals value chain as we capitalise on the incredible, newly abundant supplies of natural gas” that have reinvigorated the domestic US chemicals industry, drawing major foreign investment and re-shoring production and jobs that 10 years ago seemed gone for good.
- Cal Dooley is a keynote speaker at NACD’s Annual Meeting, taking place in Scottsdale, AZ on November 17-20