Try a little 'safetiness'

Jan. 24, 2014

It’s been a bad week for workers and the environment

Just when we’d all but forgotten about the contamination of the water supply in West Virginia and pushed this week’s deadly explosions at plants in Nebraska and Oklahoma to the backs of our minds, we’re now discovering that a second chemical was released into the Elk River by Freedom Industries. Polyglycol ethers (PPH), typically used as a thinner for crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), comprised more than 7% of what was in the tank that leaked into the river.

It’s bad enough that we don’t really know much about the toxicity of MCHM because the material safety data sheets on it are riddled with the phrase, “No data available,” but Subsection 6.2 clearly indicates that release to the environment should be avoided as a precaution ( Duh!

We’ll come back to Freedom Industries and its shady leadership in a moment, but first let’s remember the four people who didn’t go home to their families on the first day of the work week. Two people died and 10 were injured when a floor collapsed at the International Nutrition plant in Omaha, Nebraska, on Monday morning. And then the plant furnace at Mid American Steel and Wire in Madill, Oklahoma, exploded, leaving two more dead.

We’re off to a bad start in 2014. And this week has been an exceptionally bad one to be a worker or the environment. You’d be better off as a seal during Shark Week. So many organizations out there are doing things right, so why can’t we spread that brother’s keeper mentality ( and make personal safety and process safety equally important in every facility? If Otis Redding were alive today, I think he would likely tell us to try a little “safetiness.” (
It’s really a matter of responsibility and caring, isn’t it? Sure, accidents do happen, but so often it’s the result of neglect — forgotten infrastructure testing or condition monitoring. There’s no official word on the events just yet, but rest assured OSHA, ATF, and EPA officials are assessing the situations on all fronts.

What’s slimy about the Freedom Industries saga is that the company has filed for bankruptcy, which could stop the rising number of lawsuits against the company. I won’t fault this decision from a financial perspective, but I can’t say it’s the responsible thing to do. And there lies our problem.

Of course, this isn’t surprising from a company boasting a co-founder, Carl Kennedy II, who did time for willful failure to pay employee tax withholdings to the government. Freedom Industries is not exactly a model organization when it comes to ethics. The bad news for Eastman Chemical, the company that produced the MCHM and supplied it, is that it will most likely begin to find itself on the receiving end of the lawsuits that Freedom Industries is attempting to sidestep. Legal action always tends to rise to the level of the deepest pockets, and Eastman’s “incomplete” MSDS sheets have stirred whatever blood might have been in the water, along with the MCHM and PPH.

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