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Chemical Safety Board (CSB)

Watchdogs Say US Chemical Safety Board Is "Flying Blind"

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, December 8, 2017

In the early hours of August 31, explosions erupted at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had cut off the power supply to refrigerated containers containing organic peroxide. Residences in a 1.5-mile radius had been evacuated, and deputies manning barricades began falling ill in the middle of the road one by one. Medics were called, but no further warning was given as columns of black smoke filled the air.

Arkema knew the fires were coming -- organic peroxides burst into flames unless they are kept cool -- but company officials had insisted in a press conference prior to the explosions that the chemicals were not toxic or harmful to people, according to a lawsuit filed in September by emergency workers injured at the scene.

The lawsuit describes the scene near the plant as "nothing less than chaos," with police officers doubled over vomiting and medics gasping for air on their way to assist them. At least 15 people were hospitalized. Arkema initially told authorities the victims had inhaled a "non-toxic irritant," but residues obtained from nearby residences tested positive for dangerous toxins, such as dioxins and heavy metals, according to a separate lawsuit filed by people living nearby.

What else is Arkema hiding? For answers to that question, the public is turning to the US Chemical Safety Board, where an investigation of the Arkema incident is ongoing. However, the federal agency has failed to implement a rule requiring chemical plant operators to report dangerous releases during accidents to its investigators. Congress mandated this provision back in 1990.

Had Arkema been required to report the looming chemical fires to the Chemical Safety Board, the government and emergency workers would have had more to go on than the "vague" disclosure offered by the company during the storm, according to Adam Carlesco, a staff attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The watchdog group filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the chemical board's inaction on the reporting rule. Other plaintiffs include the Memorial for Workplace Fatalities and two Gulf South environmental groups.

"America's sole industrial safety monitor is currently flying blind and placing the health of the public at risk," Carlesco said.

Big Oil’s Bi-Partisan Helpers: a Refiner’s Fire 5 Years Later

By Steve Early - Counterpunch, August 4, 2017

Five years ago, my wife and I moved to Richmond, CA and soon learned about the local emergency response protocol known as “shelter in place.”

When large fires break out in Bay Area refineries, like the century old Chevron facility near our house, first a siren sounds. Then public officials direct everyone nearby to take cover inside. Doors must be closed, windows taped shut, if possible, and air conditioning turned off.

August 6th is the fifth anniversary of such self-help efforts in Richmond. On that day in 2012, we looked up and saw an eruption worthy of Mount Vesuvius. Due to pipe corrosion and lax maintenance practices, a Chevron processing unit sprang a leak. The escaping petroleum vapor reached an ignition source. This led to a raging fire that Contra Costa County (home to four refineries) classified as a “Level 3 incident,” posing the highest level of danger.

Nineteen oil workers narrowly escaped death at the scene of the accident. It sent a towering plume of toxic smoke over much of the East Bay and fifteen thousand refinery neighbors in search of medical attention for respiratory complaints, While local property values took a hit, Chevron stayed on track to make $25 billion in profits that year.

By Delaying Chemical Safety Rule, Pruitt Endangers First Responders and Refinery Towns

By Daniel Ross - Truthout, May 18, 2017

At 8:48 a.m. on the morning of February 18, 2015, an explosion at the ExxonMobil Torrance refinery in Southern California ripped through the facility with such ferocity, the resulting shockwaves registered on the Richter scale. Dust was scattered over the densely populated neighborhood up to a mile away from the blast. Four workers suffered minor injuries. A hulking 40-ton chunk of debris from the refinery's Electrostatic Precipitator narrowly avoided hitting a tank containing tens of thousands of pounds of highly toxic modified hydrofluoric acid.

The damning findings of a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) review of the accident were made public earlier this month. Among some of the problems identified in the report: the refinery repeatedly violated ExxonMobil's corporate safety standards leading up to the incident, while multiple gaps existed in the refinery's safety systems.

"It was only sheer luck that the hydrofluoric acid tank wasn't hit," said Dr. Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. If it had been hit, the collision could have released a toxic ground-hugging cloud with the potential to kill for nine miles and cause serious and irreversible injuries for up to 16 miles under worst-case scenario projections, she added.

"This is yet another symptom of how in our country we always put profit ahead of safety," Hayati said.

Just before Obama exited office, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place a new federal rule setting tougher safety procedures at facilities covered by the EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP). The rule is designed to prevent accidents like the 2015 Torrance refinery explosion from happening again, and to better protect first-responders and the communities perched in the shadow of facilities that store and use potentially dangerous chemicals.

According to EPA data, over 1,500 accidents were reported by RMP facilities between 2004 and 2013, causing more than $2 billion in property damages.

The new rule was supposed to come into effect in March. But after a petition opposing the rule was filed by a coalition of trade associations, the EPA initially stayed its implementation for three months. Then, after various states and companies in the refining, oil and gas, chemical and manufacturing sector filed further petitions, the EPA proposed to extend the stay an additional 20 months -- until February 19, 2019 -- in order to win time to consider these various petitions, and to possibly "revise" the RMP amendments.

Fearing that the EPA under Scott Pruitt will take the side of industry and further delay, weaken or even try to abrogate the new rule entirely, a coalition of community groups, scientists and environmental organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit last month.

"We don't expect Pruitt to defend [the rule]," said Gordon Sommers, associate attorney with Earthjustice, who filed the motion on behalf of the coalition. In a letter to the EPA last year when still Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt asked the agency to withdraw the rule, citing national security concerns.

"We know where he stands and we know that his arguments are the same arguments that the big industries are making," said Sommers. "We know his priority is not protecting these communities."

How We're Surviving Right to Work: Oil Refinery Workers Get People in Motion

By Alexandra Bradbury - Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

The key is collective action, says Steelworkers Local 675 Secretary-Treasurer Dave Campbell. His union represents 4,000 workers in California and Nevada, many of them at oil refineries where workers get a window of opportunity to drop their membership each time the contract comes up for renegotiation. In each refinery of 300-600 workers, the union maintains around 90 percent membership.

That's because members have the habit of acting for themselves as a union on the shop floor. Union leaders encourage members to bolster a grievance with workplace action. For instance, a supervisor had forbidden people to wear baseball caps, sunglasses, or Hawaiian shirts in the control room. Workers collected signatures on a petition and presented it to the other supervisor, who crumpled it up and threw it away.

“We organized all four crews to show up for work with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and ball caps,” Campbell says, “and the union bought the roast pig for a Hawaiian luau lunch. When the superintendent saw all the workers united, he of course asked what the hell was going on—and the supervisor who had caused all this was reassigned.”

Besides being fun and effective, these activities give workers the chance to learn by doing. “In essence they see what the union really is,” Campbell says. “The union is them, and it’s their concerted, collective activity on the shop floor which gives the union power.”

Oil Refineries Don’t Just Pollute; They Also Kill Workers

By Jim Morris - Center for Public Integrity, December 13, 2016

ANACORTES, Washington—From 500 yards away, John Moore felt the concussion before he heard it.

EcoUnionist News #59

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 4, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

Bread and Roses:

Covert Contracts Drain Chemical Safety Board Budget; Sole-Source Payments Piecemealed to Avoid Bid, Affirmative Action and Other Rules

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, July 8, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — The new leader of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is busy spending money on things other than chemical safety, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the past weeks, CSB has let nearly $100,000 in sole-source contracts for outside lawyers and consultants without public notice or discussion and kept them below a dollar threshold that would trigger an array of federal procurement requirements.

Last month, Richard Engler declared himself the “Interim Executive and Administrative Authority” for the CSB, a status disputed by the only other remaining Board member, Manuel (Manny) Ehrlich. He then proceeded to put the general counsel and managing director on paid administrative leave and began reassigning staff. Without informing Ehrlich, he also began unilaterally executing no-bid contracts for –

  • An organizational consultant called RGS of Arlington, VA for $49,998 ; and
  • “Legal Services” from the Washington, DC firm of Shaw, Bransford, Veilleux and Roth. Records indicate two payments totaling $45,000 have been authorized thus far at a billing rate between $175 and $300 per hour.

Federal contracts under $50,000 avoid a variety of procurement rules, including stronger competitive bidding and affirmative action requirements. They also fall just shy of the $50,000 threshold requiring a full Board vote under an order passed this May (with Engler among the “aye” votes) in the name of improving governance and “transparency.” Yet, these contracts were approved with the other Board member and most of the agency staff left in the dark.

“This guy is spending taxpayer money like a drunken sailor,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting Engler craves loyalty from a divided and intimidated staff so much that he even tried to elevate a lawyer with a big lawsuit against CSB. “He is assembling a mercenary force paid to do his only bidding.”

Coup Détat and Purge Befalls Chemical Safety Board; Senior Staff Marched Out Under Armed Guard and Banned from Building

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 18, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — Strife within the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has burst into the open again with one board member seizing control and ordering immediate suspension of the agency’s entire executive staff, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In less than a week, the CSB will be left with only two board members who cannot agree on governance of the small agency.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents in refineries, factories, and other fixed facilities. It is supposed to have five members but is currently operating with only three, after the White House pressured its own appointed CSB chair, Rafael Moure-Eraso, to resign in March before his nominated successor was confirmed. That left the CSB leaderless, since the White House is declining to designate an interim chair among the remaining three members.

On Friday June 12th, one of the board members Rick Engler circulated an email in which he claimed “the Board voted to designate me the Board Member Delegated Interim Executive and Administrative Authority.” However, there had been no CSB vote. Instead, acting without a quorum, Engler and outgoing Board member Mark Griffon, whose term ends on June 24th, made the designation by email. Their action came over the vehement objection of the third Board member, Manuel "Manny" Ehrlich. But Engler rebuffed Ehrlich’s overture that they act cooperatively to run the CSB until a chair could be confirmed.

This Tuesday June 16th, Engler summarily placed the CSB’s executive staff, Managing Director
Daniel Horowitz and General Counsel Richard Loeb, on administrative leave, forbade them from re-entering the building or talking to any CSB staff. Armed Federal Protective Service agents placed the two in custody and escorted them off the premises.

The stated basis for Engler’s action was that he had ordered an internal investigation into “possible misconduct” identified months earlier by a House Committee and the EPA Inspector General in reports that targeted the former board chair. The reports covered topics ranging from Moure-Eraso’s supposedly “autocratic” approach, use of private email, and staff complaints of a “toxic work environment.”

“In charge for less than a week, Engler has presided over the escalation from a toxic work environment to thermonuclear war,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “These stale and frankly trivial matters do not merit Egyptian-style martial-law retribution meted out here.”

Ironically, it was Engler who was an outspoken critic of the “lack of transparency” and collegiality under Moure-Eraso. Yet, his actions make those of the prior chair pale in comparison.

EcoUnionist News #44

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Health and Safety:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

OSHAgate

By Steve Zeltser - The Daily Censored, February 16, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The epidemic of refinery explosions and derailments  leading to massive explosions seem to increase by the week. Behind this collapse of health and safety protection according to advocates is the failure to protect health and safety whistleblowers. The fear of workers to complain about serious health and safety problems is a key part of this failure. Now a Federal lawyer at OSHA Darrell Whitman has charged along with health and safety whistleblowers that the agency management and the DOL have not been enforcing the law to protect not only the whistleblowers but the health and safety of all Americans.

In an explosive document sent to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez in May 2014, Federal OSHA attorney Darrell Whitman, charged that there is systemic corruption in the agency that is preventing the protection of health and safety whistleblowers. As a result of making these charges with extensive documentation, Whitman has himself become a target of workplace bullying and moves to terminate him from the agency. In fact according to Whipple his supervisor Joshua Paul who is also an attorney at the agency ordered him to falsify federal documents  which is a criminal felony. On February 21, 2015 the agency sent a mover to his house and took his documents and badge preventing him from doing his work.
Whitman has a lot of years under his belt. He has been working over 10 years for state and Federal agencies so he knows a bit about how the Federal government operates.

His latest job was as an investigator in the OSHA program that investigates health and safety complaints by workers in industries from oil, rail, trucking and other companies in OSHA region 9 which covers nearly 40 million workers in the West.
As one of the 6 OSHA staff in this unit, there have been only three that actually doing investigations. Whitman investigates whether OSHA complaints by workers are valid and then makes a determination of whether or not their complaints are serious enough to gain a merit status. Under Federal law this merit status provides full back pay and can provide punitive damages to workers who are terminated for making their health and safety complaints.

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