ATTEMPTED GREENWASH BACKFIRES ON NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
REPORT FROM BRIDGET HANNA IN NEW YORK
Here’s an update about Bill Russell’s Bhopal event at the New York Academy of Sciences on Monday night, cosponsored by the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Because no one affiliated with ICJB was willing to participate, the whole thing was reduced to one panel – called “21 years Later : Learning from Bhopal.”
The panel was Scott Berger, director of The Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS); and Karen Tancredi, Manager, Environmental, Process Safety, and Fire Protection, for, as it turns out, Dupont Chemical, the second largest chemical company in the world (after Dow) and inventor of CFC’s.
Berger’s presentation was the less egregious of the two. He actually talked about Bhopal briefly, and although lowballing everything (2,000 dead, 100,000 injured), he at least attributed the disaster to numerous safety failures and a bad safety culture within UCC, although the left open the question of the actual trigger, saying it “didn’t matter” whether it was accidental or sabotage. And the then noted that there may have even been some “additional deaths” in the aftermath.
However, primarily his presentation was a history of the Center for Chemical Process Safety, formed in 1984 by 19 scared industry executives after Bhopal happened. Now, we should all be reassured to know, they have published over 70 books in 13 different languages since then. However, the “culture” of some companies has not changed, so things like the benzene spill in China this months still happen. Bottom line, thanks to Bhopal we’ve published a lot, and if companies feel like using the information, well that’s just super, but accidents will still happen. oh well. He used the words “regulation” and “enforcement” perhaps once each. It was all “culture” and “compliance” and “standards.”
Ms. Tancredi’s presentation was unbelievable. First of all it had nothing to do with Bhopal at all, and most to do with how exceptional Dupont is (“I really, really love Dupont”), even though “even we have accidents.” Basically the presentation was an ad for her new book on process safety, including such gems as prioritizing the areas that need safety — for example a warehouse that’s just storing stuff might be a good place to cut corners on safety spending, if you need it for your flaming pit of petroleum waste. I kind of zoned out because I started to see red. She had the nerve to end her presentation with the attached image, clearly having no idea what it was of, and noting that “look, this was, what was it Scott? 2 years ago in Bhopal? And that’s Sevin! and those workers aren’t even wearing masks! So you can see how we still have some work to do in terms of process safety.” Ok, those aren’t exact quotes, but that was the gist of it.
More pictures not shown by Tancredi are here.
However, most of the audience wasn’t having it (although several of them were later heard referring disparagingly to “the environmentalists” in the audience.) I started in (in a voice I was later told was very obviously trembling with rage…) and tried to fill in for the audience the fact that Bhopal had simply allowed the chemical industry to use process safety to better cover its ass, and meanwhile people die in Bhopal every day, and there is this water contamination, and if these two and the corporations they represent were really at all committed to safety wouldn’t they spend their time pressuring Dow to take responsibility for the disaster and be properly punished, so that “compliance” would become mandatory instead of optional. They dodged my questions mostly, Ms. Tancredi with a wide open sneer on her face.
But the audience took the cue and followed up with questions like, but didn’t the Bhopal accident happen because UCC used worse technology than they would have in the US? “Absolutely not” said Berger. So a lot of the Q&A was him saying things and me correcting them. There were a few questions from financiers and insurance agents that semi-addressed what these guys were talking about, but largely the tone was of restrained disbelief. One woman asked about the relationship of the precautionary principle to their attitude that there was an acceptable amount of risk, and Ms. Tancredi just baldly answered another question entirely, talking about how the safety culture at UCC was bad, as opposed to Dupont.