Fatal Chemical Accidents Expose Weak Federal Laws

The U.S. government has recommended changes in federal rules following the tragedies in Indiana and Texas involving chemical accidents so that more industrial explosions wouldn’t happen.
Recent tragedies involving explosions at plants across the U.S. have revealed gaps in the nation’s web of laws that govern the use of hazardous chemicals. The massive chemical spill in West Virginia is a prime example of the gaps in these government laws.

Federal officials have little knowledge regarding the health risks of the two potentially toxic chemicals that Freedom Industries’ storage tank leaked into the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia, contaminating the local water supply of 300,000 residents.

This is not uncommon for officials to know little about these health risks. The Toxic Sustances Control Act doesn’t require manufacturers to test for toxicity. It barely covers most chemicals on the market, because their use preceded the law and is largely exempt. The legislation cannot be fixed without action by Congress.

At the same time, the independent federal agency investigating these recent explosions and chemical spill has no enforcement power. So the Chemical Safety Board’s probes lead to recommendations that often tend to be ignored.

The CSB has over 160 pending recommendations, including some a decade old and 12 from three prior accidents in West Virginia since 2007.

Chemical accidents are certainly not showing a downward trend with 334 high-consequence incidents causing death in 2012, up from 282 in 2011.

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