IHS Chemical Week


Spill shines light on need for greater accountability along chemical supply chain


As investigators continue to assess the cause of a chemical spill last week that impacted more than 300,000 residents in nine West Virginia counties, the finger is once again being pointed toward the chemical manufacturing industry. There is an outcry from environmental groups, the public, and some members of Congress for stricter regulations on the chemical industry as a means to prevent future incidents from occurring. But, this reflexive call for more regulations on what is already one of the most regulated industries in our country is not the answer. What we need is greater accountability and adherence to existing regulations throughout the entire chemical supply chain.

The recent West Virginia spill, as well as the West, TX, fertilizer explosion, reminds us that proper storage and handling of all chemicals, regardless of toxicity, must be managed all along the chemical supply chain. Incidents such as these shine a spotlight on the chemical industry even if the incident did not occur at a supplier’s site, but rather at a downstream, end-user distribution center or warehouse. Every company plays a critical role in the chemical chain of custody—from raw material supplier to formulator to distributor to end-user.

The chemical industry depends on a complex network of suppliers, truckers, and other carriers; intermediate processors; blending and warehousing facilities; and, ultimately, the end-user to comply with existing regulations and take time to inspect—and reinspect again—the integrity of all reactors, pipelines, storage tanks, and any other interconnecting devices that come into contact with any chemical. If a link in the chain of command does not do its part, accidents are bound to happen, and the calls for more misplaced regulations come crashing in.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D., WV) and Representative Henry Waxman (D., CA) are now calling for tougher regulations on chemicals in commerce in wake of the West Virginia spill, but Socma believes this will not necessarily prevent future spills. Placing a greater emphasis on accident prevention at the state and local level may be more appropriate. For example, revitalizing and perhaps improving the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) presents the single-greatest opportunity to drive chemical emergency risk reduction nationally because it puts local residents in every jurisdiction in a position to oversee and raise questions about emergency planning for hazardous chemicals. We fully support increased coordination between federal, state and local governments.

The chemical spill does raise questions about why the bipartisan bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009)—has stalled in the Senate for months. If nothing else, the spill in West Virginia should spur senators to action on the legislation. Socma has been working closely with lawmakers on this issue and continues to support strengthening TSCA.

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