Issue Date: March 12, 2012
Inherently Safer Design
In mid-April, the National Research Council (NRC) will release a report on its year-and-half-long study of inherently safer chemical manufacturing. The report could prove valuable to chemical companies, communities near chemical plants, and the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board, which has recommended that companies consider inherently safer designs.
The release will include a panel discussion of the study’s results, which will be held in Charleston, W.Va., near the site of a Bayer CropScience pesticide plant accident that led to the NRC study. In August 2008, a plant explosion and fire killed two workers and came close to blasting debris into an aboveground tank holding 13,000 lb of methyl isocyanate (MIC), the chemical responsible for the 1984 Bhopal, India, plant disaster that killed and injured thousands.
Because of the Bayer accident, members of the House of Representatives set aside $600,000 for the NRC study. Meanwhile, as a result of community pressure and business decisions, Bayer decided to begin a phaseout of its use of MIC.
Despite Bayer’s MIC phaseout, NRC moved ahead with its study, broadening it to include an examination of the feasibility and cost-benefit implications of moving to inherently safer manufacturing methods. Consequently, it will now be a case study of the use of inherently safer process assessments, an NRC official tells C&EN.
Inherently safer chemical manufacturing aims to minimize use and storage of flammable, toxic, or explosive chemicals in manufacturing through several means, particularly chemical substitution and process modification. The intent is to eliminate or minimize the likelihood of an accident involving dangerous chemicals. Some companies have embraced the approach; others say it is too complicated, not cost-effective, and can lead to other problems.
During its investigation, the 10-member NRC panel held several public meetings. It also visited the Charleston plant and its surrounding community.
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