Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, August 29, 2013 6:18 pm

Because you looked too damn secure for my taste, chemical explosions edition

Apparently the Dallas Morning News, bless it, is not dead yet:

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

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.”

h/t Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money, who adds, quite accurately:

Let’s be clear, this is intentional. Corporations don’t want you to know where things are produced or under what conditions. Business has ensured that the relevant government agencies that could effectively track this information remain chronically underfunded. We can blame government and there’s no question that it isn’t enough of a priority for either political party. But one party is opposed to the sheer existence of these agencies and that makes it awfully hard to craft an effective regulatory system.

To put it even more bluntly, the operators of these chemical plants don’t give two hoots in hell whether you live or die, because they don’t have to: If you die, your death is just a tax-deductible cost of doing business for them — if it costs them anything at all. And this degree of lethality will continue as long as corporations are allowed any say, direct or financial, in how we are governed. There’s a word for it, and all the Tea Partiers in the world to the contrary, that word is not “socialism.”


Friday, May 7, 2010 11:23 pm

Events. Patterns. Systems.

OK, we know the recent economic collapse was due in significant part to inadequate regulation and government oversight. We know that the Deepwater Horizon disaster now erupting in the Gulf of Mexico was due in significant part to inadequate regulation and government oversight. And we now have a reasonable basis for believing that our environment’s role in causing human cancers has been badly underestimated — again, in significant part because of inadequate regulation and government oversight:

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.

U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.

(I should point out that while items 3 and 4 may appear contradictory, a law or regulation can be weak because it is excessively complex and therefore difficult for enforcers to understand).

The report goes into detail about a variety of environmental factors that lead to cancer (including some in the field of medicine), but unless I missed it, it doesn’t come right out and say the obvious: Preventing cancers caused in this way would be a helluva lot easier and cheaper than treating them, just as the cheapest, easiest way to “treat” lung cancer is never to start smoking. But because our legislators are bought-and-paid-for whores of industry, we keep getting cancers, we keep dying, and industry keeps profiting from all the dead people and the pain and grief of their survivors.

I suppose it’s relevant in this context to mention that we’re in the process of dumping, both on the surface and a mile under the ocean, chemical dispersants to try to deal with the oil eruption from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These chemicals, whose composition is a trade secret, have not been tested on human beings. But here’s what we do know about them:

OSHA requires companies to make Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSs, available for any hazardous substances used in a workplace, and the ones for these dispersants both contain versions of a disturbing statement. 9500’s states that “Component substances have a potential to bioconcentrate,” while the one for 9527A has the slightly more comforting, “Component substances have a low potential to bioconcentrate.”

This is not what you want to hear about toxins being dumped in the sea by the hundreds of thousands of gallons. The EPA defines bioconcentration as the “accumulation of a chemical in tissues of a fish or other organism to levels greater than in the surrounding medium.” In other words, substances that bioconcentrate tend to move from water into fish, where they can do damage to the fish itself, as well as be passed on to predator fish — and on up the food chain, to human eaters.

And just how toxic is this stuff? The data sheets for both products contain this shocker: “No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product” — meaning testing their safety for humans.

Well, that’s good, then.

And the bigger picture yet is this: We’ve tried deregulating things in a big way now for about the past 30 years. Is anyone seriously arguing that the airline industry is in better shape now than 30 years ago? The financial system? Commercial radio?

And what about you? Are you better off for the changes to these industries?

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