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Volume 87 Issue 15 | p. 9 | News of The Week
Issue Date: April 13, 2009

Accident Data Okay For Release

Coast Guard, safety board agree on public disclosure of accident material
Department: Government & Policy
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The U.S. Coast Guard oversees efforts of chemical plants on waterways, like this one at the Houston Ship Channel.
Credit: Jeff Johnson/C&EN
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The U.S. Coast Guard oversees efforts of chemical plants on waterways, like this one at the Houston Ship Channel.
Credit: Jeff Johnson/C&EN

THE U.S. COAST GUARD (USCG) has approved a slide presentation to be given by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) at an April 23 public meeting at Institute, W.Va. The meeting deals with the board’s ongoing investigation of a deadly plant accident at the Bayer CropScience facility there.

Community meetings are a normal part of the board’s process of investigating chemical plant accidents. However, Bayer objected to the public release of information it supplied to CSB, saying the material might aid terrorists and is protected as “sensitive security information” under the Maritime Transportation Safety Act. Bayer must comply with this law because its facility is located on a waterway. MTSA is overseen by USCG, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The convoluted review process involving CSB and USCG is likely to become more common as chemical companies, CSB, and DHS are affected by new security regulations. Some 10,000 facilities are covered under MTSA and another similar security law.

CSB canceled the meeting once before because of Bayer’s objections. In a compromise, CSB agreed to allow USCG to screen material to be released at the meeting (C&EN, March 23, page 10).

After its review, USCG found only one fact in the presentation that could not be made public: the time of day methyl isocyanate is transferred from a receiving dock on the Kanawha River to the plant. CSB agreed to strike the information from its slides.

USCG wants to draw up a memorandum of understanding to smooth future negotiations, USCG spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Christopher O’Neil says.

However, John Bresland, CSB’s chair, says the board will ask Congress for direction before negotiating with USCG. “We pride ourselves on being a public agency and getting information out in our reports, videos, and so forth,” he tells C&EN.

The Bayer investigation has generated 28,000 pages of material, Bresland notes, and if CSB must go through this process with every investigation, “it is really going to make our lives complicated.”

 
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