Study examines chemical safety across United States, effects on population

COLLEGE STATION, February 17, 2003 - Eighteen years after a leak at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India killed thousands of people on Dec. 3, 1984, a new report on chemical safety in the United States shows that while the number of incidents are falling, a lot of work still remains to be done to eliminate them.

According to a study by the Texas Engineering Experiment Station's Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center, less than half of people in the United States are aware of chemical plants in their communities, and even fewer were aware of any chemical accidents occurring in their communities during the previous five years. And, the majority of those people surveyed had not received any information telling them what to do to protect themselves in case of a chemical accident in their community.

Put together over a two-year period by more than 80 representatives from government, industry, academia and public interest groups, the report examines public awareness of chemical spills and safety, ways of measuring chemical safety and the usefulness of how the federal government compiles and maintains records on incidents involving the release of harmful chemicals.

Dr. Sam Mannan, director of the Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center, said that while the chemical industry has a tremendous impact on the national economy, until now no one has ever done a national assessment of where the industry is, where it needs to go and what improvements are needed in terms of chemical safety.

"It's amazing in this country how we track anything to do with financial resources," said Mannan, who is also a professor in Texas A&M University's Department of Chemical Engineering. "We can tell you to the decimal point how good or bad the stock market is doing. We don't do that for chemical safety."

The report finds that the chemical industry still has a lot of work to do in some areas, especially in terms of keeping their communities informed about what's

Contact: Mark Evans
Texas A&M University

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