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Draft General Chemical Safety Audit Released
November 23, 2002

The Draft Safety Evaluation of the General Chemical-Richmond Works Facility was released on November 15, and the public will have a chance to review and make suggestions about a draft report of a safety evaluation at a chemical plant in the East Bay that has been the scene of recent accidents.

MRS Environmental Company will present the draft report that of their safety evaluation of the General Chemical facility in Richmond at a public meeting on December 2 from 7-9 pm at the Richmond City Council Chambers, 2600 Barrett Avenue.  A public 30-day public comment period will run from November 18 to December 17. The draft report is available upon request by contacting Randy Sawyer at (925) 646-2879, at the Contra Costa Health Services Hazardous Materials Programs Office at 4333 Pacheco Blvd. in Martinez or online at www.cchealth.org

The draft report includes numerous citations of lack of vision for the safety program, a need to improve teamwork  and to establish a more consistent and coherent management team.

The safety review included an evaluation of the safety culture of the plant, management systems in place for process safety, and human factors. It was arranged after the Richmond City Council, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and Contra Costa Health Services agreed that more information was needed to explain why accidents were occurring frequently at the plant. MRS spent a week at General Chemical, reviewing policies and procedures, surveying employees, conducting interviews and looking at management systems. The consultants conducted a similar effort several years ago at the Tosco/Avon refinery after an accident killed four workers and seriously injured another there.

The report is the result of a compromise reached by the Richmond City Council and General Chemical following a controversial move by Vice-Mayor Tom Butt to call  for a review of General Chemical’s Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The original CUP included a long list of conditions designed to ensure safe operation of the facility. Following such a review, the conditions of the CUP could be changed or expanded, or in the most stringent action, the permit could be revoked – essentially putting the company out of business. Council members supporting the safety audit felt it would be a more useful tool than a CUP hearing.

The results of the audit, however, are non-binding, and the audit was paid for indirectly by General Chemical. The Contra Costa County Health Department ultimately ignored the request by Butt and other City Council members to  also include a review of the CUP conditions. Some believe that the County Heath Services Department is a little too cozy with the industries it regulates.

The final report is scheduled to be issued on January 7, 2003 with an oral report given to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and the Richmond City Council on January 14, 2003.