Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fight for Safety Rules at Industrial Plants: Who Assumes Industrial Externalities?

The Wall Street Journal print edition has an interesting article titled "Fight Brews Over Tighter Plant Rules: Safety, Environmental Advocates Push for Chemical Regulations, as Cause of Texas Blast Still Unknown" by Daniel Gilbert May 2, 2013 p. A5

Majia here: The blast killed 14 people directly and injured hundreds. Many more people may suffer health consequences over time from breathing in highly toxic chemicals from the explosion and fire.

The article explains that industrial safety and environmental groups want laws passed that aim to prevent accidents like the Texas plant by requiring companies to evaluate whether "inherently safer technologies" exist. Inherently safer technologies illustrated in the article include safer chemicals and safer storage facilities (e.g., storing chemicals at lower temperatures).

As one can imagine, initial investments in new technologies may require capital outlays and so agricultural and chemical lobbies "have long opposed laws that would require it, saying they would be unnecessary, costly, or impractical."

Essentially the chemical and agricultural industries are shifting their costs - their externalities - to the public in the form of health and property costs deriving from disasters and routine emissions.

The people are forced to assume risks and costs so that the companies can operate with the greatest profits possible.

The records show that the last time the Texas facility was investigated was in 2006, after a complaint about an ammonia smell.

The state agency responsible for investigating this sort of complaint in Texas is called the state Feed and Fertilizer Control Service. According to the WSJ article, they are "mostly concerned with ensuring products meet commercial-labeling standards."

From this article, it appears that Texas has no safety agency that responds to citizen complaints about safety issues from highly dangerous chemical producers.

If this is true, then the state of Texas is complicit in helping industry shift risks and costs of dangerous business operations to its citizens.

Risk shifts to citizen/communities indicate greed and corruption in our industry and our regulatory apparatuses.

In the end, we will ALL pay for this greed, with our health and with our lives.


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