After West disaster, News study finds U.S. chemical safety data wrong about 90 percent

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Today’s post was shared by respected colleague Jon Gelman who practices law in New Jersey, and he read the story at www.dallasnews.com. How can you learn from tragedy when there’s no accurate record of those tragedies to truck, study and research? I think this quote from the story said it best: “Former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus … said he was looking for hard data to help policymakers ensure that the chemical industry had proper safeguards in place. … ‘We should be carefully assessing accidents or instances in which toxic materials have been released and find out … why that happened and take steps necessary to reduce the chances of it happening in the future.’” And there’s been a lot of reports that say these are necessary steps. And it’s the right thing to do. But just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t mean it’s done. Action needs to be taken soon to protect workers, first responders, and the public.

Even the best national data on chemical accidents is wrong nine times out of 10.

A Dallas Morning News analysis of more than 750,000 federal records found pervasive inaccuracies and holes in data on chemical accidents, such as the one in West that killed 15 people and injured more than 300.

In fact, no one at any level of government knows how often serious chemical accidents occur each year in the United States. And there is no plan in place for federal agencies to gather more accurate information.

As a result, the kind of data sharing ordered by President Barack Obama in response to West is unlikely to improve the government’s ability to answer even the most basic questions about chemical safety.

“We can track Gross National Product to the second and third decimal, but there is no reliable way of tracking even simple things like how many [chemical] accidents happen,” said Sam Mannan, a nationally recognized expert on chemical safety who recently testified before a congressional hearing on West.

“This is just scandalous.”

After the West explosion in April, The News asked a simple question: How often do serious or potentially serious industrial chemical accidents occur in Texas and nationwide? After scouring the four federal databases with the most comprehensive information available on chemical safety, The News concluded that there was no way to know.

For a recent four-year period, the paper managed to confirm at least…

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