Archives for category: Industrial Accidents

Rena Steinzor has posted her article “The Truth About Regulation in America (Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 5, pp. 323-346, 2011) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The special interests leading the accelerating crusade against regulation have re-ignited a potent coalition of industry lobbyists, traditional conservatives, and grassroots Tea Party activists. The politicians speak in generic terms for public consumption: “the nation is broke,” “big government is bad,” “regulation costs trillions.” Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists target for repeal dozens of regulations that are designed to control pollution, ensure drug, product, and food safety, and eliminate workplace hazards. In an effort to bring light and air to an often misleading and always opportunistic national debate, this essay presents five truths about the state of health, safety, and environmental regulation in America: First, regulatory dysfunction hurts many people. At the same time, big, bad government and powerful, protective regulation are two different things. The current system is sufficiently weak, especially with respect to enforcement, that even scoundrels are not stopped. Fourth, regulated industries understand the benefits of regulation and could negotiate compromises with agencies and public interest representatives if deregulatory opportunists would back off. Finally, if left alone, health, safety, and environmental agencies could accomplish great things.

Six “protector agencies” with the mission to safeguard people and natural resources from the hazards of the industrial age are the focus of the essay. In the descending order of size include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In a nutshell, I argue that stringent regulation has enabled this country to achieve a remarkable level of industrialization while maintaining its natural environment to a remarkable degree, with the admittedly huge exception of the eroding ozone layer that is causing severe climate change. For verification of this observation, we have only to consider China, where a break-neck pace toward industrial development has left the environment in shambles, causing as many as 2.4 million deaths annually as a direct result of contaminated water and air (adjusted for population, the American equivalent would be 558,000 deaths).

The truth about regulation in America is that we cannot prosper without it, as many corporate executives will admit when they are standing outside the herd. The agencies that protect health, safety, and the environment cost less than one percent of the federal budget and projected benefits exceed costs by at least two to one. But the agencies are growing weaker and less able to enforce the law effectively. Further, as happened on Wall Street, even egregious violators continue business as usual until disaster strikes (and, in some painfully notorious cases, even afterwards — see, for example, British Petroleum’s chronic violations of worker safety and environmental laws that were left undeterred over the decade leading up to the Gulf oil spill).

Download the paper for free.

From the Rock River Times:

On a Sunday in the late 1970s, Mike Molander was performing his assigned duties as a pollution control technician at the Amerock Corporation when he said he witnessed the suspicious pouring of highly toxic materials into an old farmer’s well located at the facility.

The old well head, from a farm that was used on the land before Amerock purchased the property, was where construction was under way for a new addition to the massive plant on Auburn Street, Molander said. The 10-year employee said he witnessed a curious, unexplainable siphoning of nickel and hexavalent chromium liquid from containers into the well head by three employees.

Molander’s job at the time was to collect water samples from around the hardware manufacturing plant for testing, then he was to report the results to the federally-run Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It was a holiday when nobody was around,” Molander told The Rock River Times in an exclusive interview. “I didn’t know anyone else was in the building. I was walking around while going on my route. The company was building the new tool room with a climate-controlled environment.”

Molander said the expansion featured wall and ceiling construction, but the floor was not yet finished, and the well head was still accessible.

“I heard voices coming from the north end,” Molander said. “I looked over, and here was [sic] these three guys with a container that was used to put chromium and nickel in, about 25 to 30 gallons. Those containers held very, very toxic waste. They had a lot of that stuff lying around. They had one of those containers with a hose on top, siphoning the fluids from the drum. There was no reason to put fluids into the well head.”

Molander identified two of the three men as maintenance foreman Rollie Lindquist and maintenance lead man John Dahle.

Molander, who possesses a certificate of competency from the EPA to allow him to perform this type of work in a professional manner, has been a whistleblower no one would hear until now. He said during his time at Amerock in his pollution control job, Amerock never had negative citations from the EPA or the Rockford Sanitary Department regarding polluting.

“As part of my job, I had to do Federal Registry testing,” Molander said. “I had to do a week’s worth of samples from all over the building, test them and incubate them in a refrigerator. I recorded results and did analysis, then filled out a form for my supervisor. It took 21 days to do the testing process, seven days of collecting, seven for incubation and seven for final analysis. The tests were to determine the quality of effluent (waste water) BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) and COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand). COD tells you basically how much oxygen the chemicals are seeking from the water.”

Water that came from the plating lines and other machines was monitored by Amerock and the EPA beginning in the mid-1970s, Molander said, when new EPA guidelines came out for waste water put into the city sanitation system.

After seeing the siphoning of chemicals from the drums into the well head, Molander took his observations to his boss, Roger Julin, who was in charge of all laboratory, pollution control and chemical research activities.

“Monday, I went and told my boss, Roger Julin,” Molander said. “He said he thought that was unusual. He told me he would look into it and get back to me. A couple days later, I asked him for information. He said he talked to the proper people and that everything was under control and not to worry about it. That, to me, was really strange. It never went anywhere.”

Dissatisfied with the answer he received, Molander said he called the City of Rockford Sanitary District a week later.

“I called the Compliance Department,” Molander said. “I had been down there on a few occasions as part of my job. I left messages, but they never responded back.”

Molander said he left a message for the department supervisor, Violet Chen.

“No one ever got back to me,” he said. “Her husband was in charge of the Rockford EPA at the time. I told them the same thing. I mentioned I had talked to the Sanitary Department to see if I had the right department. They never got back to me. It never went anywhere.”


From Scientific American:

A workplace accident might mean a paper cut or spilled coffee for many—or even loss of life or limb for others. For a select few scientists, however, a little slipup on the job could release a deadly virus or toxin into the environment.

Some 395 reported “potential release events” of “select agents” occurred in U.S. government laboratories between 2003 and 2009, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reported. “Select agent” is government-speak for a biological agent or toxin that is considered to pose “a severe threat” to human, animal or plant health—or livestock and agricultural products. Special approval from the government is required to handle these agents and toxins, and that can only happen in specially equipped labs.

Not all labs, of course, are of the Contagion and Outbreak biosafety level-4 ilk that handle mega-killers such as Ebola and smallpox. But there are plenty of other organisms studied in government labs that can easily infect and sicken humans if an accidental release occurs.

Just what were these little incidents? Most (196) were an unspecified “loss of containment.” There were also 77 reported spills and 46 accidental needle sticks or other “sharps” injuries, according to unpublished data collected in 2010 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With all of these incidents, however, only seven lab-acquired infections were reported: four Brucella melitensis (which also infects cows and sheep), two Francisella tularensis (also known as rabbit fever, which is a class A, highly virulent bacterium) and one case of San Joaquin Valley Fever (Coccidioides, an infectious fungus).

These CDC mishaps are described as part of a National Research Council (NRC) review published earlier this month in preparation for assessing the risks of a proposed bio-research facility at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. (The CDC plans to publish a more detailed analysis of potential releases in early 2012, CIDRAP noted.)


CSB Safety Video detailing three accidents at the Dupont facility in Belle, West Virginia.

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