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Responsible Care focuses on continual improvement

9:26 AM MDT | July 7, 2014 | —Rebecca Coons

Legacy: Google honored conservationist Rachel Carson on what would have been her 107th birthday.

The chemical industry continues to face public mistrust despite dramaticaly improving process and product safety under ACC’s Responsible Care program. The program is constantly evolving to address public concerns and improve industry’s health and safety profile.

Industry faces an uphill climb. The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of over 26,000 respondents across 26 countries, listed the chemical industry 15th out of 18 business sectors. Public perception of the chemical industry suffered in the wake the 1984 disaster at Bhopal. Highly publicized cancer clusters in Woburn, MA; and Toms River, NJ, added to a growing “not in my backyard” sentiment throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

And, more than 50 years after conservationist Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring exposed the detrimental effects of DDT on the bird population and spurred the environmental movement, environmentalists are calling for a ban on neonicotinoids because of the pesticide’s alleged role in declining bee populations.

Tragic incidents like Bhopal “galvanized the leadership of the chemical industry around Responsible Care, a voluntary environmental, health, and safety program launched by the Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association in 1985 and adopted by ACC in 1998, says Cal Dooley, president and CEO of ACC. “I think it was clear that the industry recognized that there needed to be a more disciplined and judicious approach to ensuring that there were best practices” in place to advance chemical manufacturers’ environmental, health, and safety practices, he adds.

In the wake of the Bhopal disaster, the original focus of Responsible Care had been on process safety and minimizing environmental impacts, Dooley says. There had also been a strong focus on occupational safety issues to ensure that companies were deploying best practices to protect the safety of their employees and the communities in which they operate, he adds.

The success of the “first-generation” of Responsible Care led to the incorporation of additional provisions, like those requiring third-party certification of compliance, which was added to the program in 2003, Dooley says. “This third-party requirement enhanced the credibility and integrity of the program. The leaders of ACC felt it was very important that independent, outside auditors certify companies’ compliance with the program.”

Third-party certification also provided a means for collecting data that demonstrated participating companies’ quantifiable environmental, health, and safety improvements of over time, Dooley says. “We’re very proud of the fact that, since 1995, ACC member companies have reduced process safety incidents by 55%, and today we have a worker safety rate that is six times better than the entire United States manufacturing sector and almost three times better than chemical companies that are not part of ACC and Responsible Care. So, there’s been a real commitment to define the practices that have enhanced the operations of our facilities and have mitigated some of the environmental, health, and safety issues and challenges that we have faced.”

More recently, unfounded concerns that chemicals used in everyday consumer products pose human health hazards have been increasingly driving public distrust of the chemical industry.

“The industry is in a constant state of evolution,” Dooley says. “There’s clearly now a very high level of commitment to enhancing the safety and security of our facilities. But it is clear that there were inflection points over the past 50 years that precipitated action and further development to the Responsible Care program. Clearly, the tragedy of Bhopal, the increased focus of environmental harm of some chemical manufacturing facilities, and how we were handling our waste were among those.”

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