Improved chemical plant safety goal impeded by faulty accident data

Aug. 27, 2013

About 90% of all national data on chemical plants in the United States is wrong, suggesting that the real risk of an incident occurring cannot be accurately estimated, according to a new investigation.

About 90 percent of all national data on chemical plants in the United States is wrong, suggesting that the real risk of an incident occurring cannot be accurately estimated, an investigation by the Dallas Morning News has revealed.

The newspaper looked into over 750,000 federal records regarding chemical plants across the country, finding large scale inaccuracies and missing information on U.S. chemical accidents. Worse still, the Dallas Morning News claimed that there is no one on any level of government who is familiar with the data on a national scale. At present the federal government has no plans to develop a strategy to gather more accurate information, the report said.

In the aftermath of the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, President Obama ordered extensive data sharing between institutions at the state and federal level. These findings mean that, even if this happens, the data shared will be wrong.

RELATED: President Obama orders review of chemical plant safety

What the Dallas Morning News was trying to find out was how often such chemical accidents took place in the United States but a thorough investigation of four different federal databases showed that there was no reliable way to know. It found that over a period of four years, 24 industrial chemical accidents were confirmed in Texas alone. The newspaper claimed that these were certainly not all the incidents in the state over that period and that it was impossible to tell how safe Texas was in comparison to other states, simply because such data was not available.

Paul Orum, a chemical safety consultant who has testified before Congress on numerous occasions, concluded that the data could not be used as a basis for a future accident prevention strategy.

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