1-2_CathyTrost by dandanhuanghuang

VIEWS: 22 PAGES: 4

									                                                              Amb. y Des., Vol. IV - Nº 1 y 2: 165-168
                                                                                     Abril-Agosto 1988

PRENSA INTERNACIONAL
DEL "WALL STREET JOURNAL" DE NEW YORK

Danger Zone
Chemical-Plant Safety Is Still Just
Developing In Developing Nations
Many Conditions Raise Risk But Firms
Deny Easing Standards in Third W o r l d
Fallout From India Gas Leak

BY CATHY TROST
Staff Report of The Wall Street Journal


At an auto-making plant in Mexico, wor-           Assessing the Risks
kers who use solvents and other hazardous
chemicals pray for protection before
                                                  Just what the Bhopal calamity proves is a
statues of the Virgin Mary at altars in their
                                                  matter of dispute, in part because it isn't
work areas.
                                                  yet clear exactly what went wrong. Ameri-
     It may not be a bad idea. In a country
                                                  can executives insist—and the experts ge-
with a work force of over 20 million, there
                                                  nerally agree—that chemical companies
are only 230 federal labor inspectors to
                                                  building plants in the Third World rarely
enforce Mexico's occupational safety and
                                                  are seeking to dodge tough environmental
health laws, an International Labor Or-
                                                  rules at home. Nevertheless, with weaker
ganization survey shows.
                                                  regulations and          enforcement abroad
     This isn't atypical for the Third World.
                                                  combining with difficulties in quality con-
No developing nation's industry comes             trol, the possibilities for disaster are worri-
close to having the elaborate system of           some.
safety regulations and inspections the U.S.
has. Yet workplaces in the Third World are              Although chemical companies insist
fast acquiring many of the same kinds of          they apply the same standard of safety and
complex industrial processes the U.S. has—        environmental protection in foreign fa-
processes like the chemical production at a       cilities as at home, "when you go into a
Union Carbide Corp. plant in Bhopal,              Third World country, you face many pro-
 India, where a was leak has killed more than     blems in attempting to reach the standard",
2,000.                                            notes Irv Rosenthal, the director of safety,
     "We're, thrusting 20th-century tech-         health and environmental affairs at Rohm
nology into countries which are't yet ready       & Haas Co. The difficulties he cites range
to deal with i t " , says Whitman Bassow of the   from finding commercial waste-disposal in-
World Environment Center, an indus-               cinerators to acquiring gear to test workers'
try-backed groups in New York. "We've             pulmonary function.
gotten away with it so far because there have         Dow Chemical Co. has run across simi-
been only minor tragedies. But the Union          lar problems. At its Chilean polyethylene
Carbide accident has really torn apart the        plant, none of the critical valves could be
whole cover on this, and things will never be     acquired locally, so the company had to
the same again".                                  keep a big supply from the U.S. on hand
166                                PRENSA I N T E R N A C I O N A L



lest it run short. Dow's safety officer,              developing countries have little status, poor
Robert Smith, says the company also                   pay and huge territories to cover. In Nige-
prefers to have an unpopulated green belt             ria, the best are regularly lured away by
around its plants, but lack of space in some          industry.
Third World sites—such as Mexico City,                     Brazil tried to regulate asbestos—pro-
where Dow has a plant—makes that                      ducts companies a few years ago but had to
difficult.                                            ask the companies to teach its inspectors
                                                      how to use the monitoring equipment.
Increasing Regulation                                      When a less-developed country does try
                                                      to strengthen its regulation, political
 Perhaps more significant is the govern-              infighting or corruption may undermine
mental policy of a Third World country                the effort, says H. Jeffrey Leonard, who
                                                      has interviewed officials of 60 companies in
where a potentially hazardous installation
                                                      developing nations in his work for a Wash-
is located. Mr. Smith finds that "the
                                                      ington research group called the Con-
standard of ethics, the value placed on
                                                      servation Foundation.
safety and the balance between cost
and safety typically is different in de-                   " I n Mexico, U.S.-based companies will
veloping countries". These days, he be-               tell you off the record that their biggest
lieves, "most of the countries in the                 problem is Mexican pollution inspectors
world are going through the same kind of              who arrive with their hands out and say.
evolution of increasing legislation and                'This could take weeks; why not just settle
regulation that the U.S. went through in              it today?'" Mr. Leonard says. "One had an
the last decade." (The Bhopal tragedy has             inspector show up every day for a month,
renewed debate on U.S. export controls for            continuing to hold his hand out, never taking
hazardous substances. See story on page 2).           measurements."
     This seems to be borne out by some                    No such corruption has been alleged
figures that Mr. Bassow of the World                   concerning the deadly methyl isocyanate
 Environment Center mentions. He says the              leak at Bhopal, India. Still, a less-than-ideal
number of environmental-type agencies in              situation is described in a 1982 report by
developing countries has soared from 11 in            three Americans Union Carbide sent to
 1972 to 110 this year. But many, he adds,            assess its 51%-owned insecticide plant.
are small, underfinanced and only meagerly                Citing a high turnover rate in the
supported by their governments.                       Indian-staffed plant, the report says that
     In India, he says, the federal envi-             "the team was concerned that personnel
ronmental department has a staff of about             were being released for independent ope-
150 persons—compared with the U.S. Envi-              ration without having gained sufficient
ronmental Protection Agency's head-                   understanding of safe operating pro-
quarters staff of 4.400. Yet India, by his            cedures." The Americans also expressed
calculation does more to enforce safety               concern about training by "rote memo-
than most Third World nations, partly                 rization," without "a basic understanding
because of the British legacy of laws and             of the reasoning behind procedures."
inspection procedures, 'It's doubtful that
                                                          With the cause of the gas leak still
half the countries in Latin America even
                                                      undetermined, it isn't known whether the
have an inspectorate," Mr. Bassow says.
                                                      staff's training was a factor. Union Carbide
                                                      says it took steps to correct the defi-
                                                      ciencies, and it chairman expresses confi-
Problems with Corruption                              dence in the Indian staff. The point is
                                                      simply that the U.S. inspectors in 1982
A study by the International Labor Orga-              were finding staffing problems that
nization found that labor inspectors in               troubled them, including instances of main-
                            DEL W A L L STREET JOURNAL DE NEW YORK                           167

tenance people "signing permits they                 American-based companies may try to
cannot read."                                    build the same kinds of plants overseas as
    Mr. Leonard says many companies              at home, but "when it comes down to it,
operating in developing countries have told      because of human procedures and little
him "they just can't get the quality control    things left out, the plants just aren't quite
we get back in the United States, or the        there," says Mr. Leonard of the Con-
human (work-force) quality." A 1979             servation Foundation. Barry Castleman, an
survey by the ILO suggested a possible          environmental activist and consultant in
reason, noting that "maintenance work is         Baltimore, contends: "Once companies
not part of the way of life in parts of the     decide to build plants in Brazil or India, the
developing world".                               usual c o s t - c u t t i n g , profit-maximizing
    An official of Monsanto Co. says that       business mentality takes over."
over the years the company has had some              Many environmentalists say that com-
"spirited discussions" with Third World          panies also are more likely to build ha-
partners over the level of safety required at   zardous products in developing countries
plants. It is concerned about the safety        where potencial hability costs may be less.
implications of being a minority partner in      Big court awards for asbestos workers in
such ventures.                                  the U.S. have prompted most asbestos-
                                                products companies to set up foreign fac-
                                                tories. "Why risk $ 100 million of liability
Roads and Phones                                when you can make it any way you please
                                                somewhere else? " says Mr. Castleman.
 If an emergency does develop. Third World           Some experts say developing nations
countries more primitive transportation         could better deal with the complex new
and communications systems pose a ha-           technologies and processes if countries like
zard. Organizing an orderly evacuation—a        the U.S. supplied more information on
daunting task in the best of circum-            environmental and safety procedures. Mr.
stances—becomes a near-impossibility when        Leonard says that wherever he travels in
a slum has sprung up around a third world       developing lands he finds the walls of
plant, as at Bhopal, India.                     government offices papered with EPA do-
     Before the natural-gas explosion in        cuments. But lately, he adds, some Third
Mexico City that killed 450 people last         World officials say they can no longer get
month, Mr. Leonard says, Mexican officials      such documents. And Thomas Gladwin, an
had confided to him that they didn't have       associate professor at New York Univer-
good emergency procedures—that if a plant       sity's business school, blames the U.S. for
were to explode, there was no way to            helping stall a plan by the Organization for
notify the populace quickly. This is the        Economic Cooperation and Development
situation in many developing lands, he          to include environmental guidelines in an
says: "How can you have an emergency            international code of conduct.
warning system if the phone doesn't work             At the EPA, Fitzhugh Green, the chief
half the time? "                                of the agency's international office, rejects
                                                such criticism. "We are missionaries in this,"
     Another way Third World countries
                                                he says. "The U.S. has been a leader since
may be ill-equipped to accommodate che-
mical industries concerns waste disposal.       the beginning of the environmental move-
Many Latin American nations don't have          ment."
well-developed commercial waste-disposal
operations, notes Pennwalt Corp., which          Spain's Stance
has six plants in Central and South Ame-
rica. Empty waste drums lately have been
turning up in Mexican slums, used by the         In any case, some countries have ocassio-
poor as water barrels.                           nally provided a haven for hazardous indus-
168                               PRENSA I N T E R N A C I O N A L



tries. Romania and India were among de-                  Mexico, noted for its tolerance of
veloping nations that began making and               asbestos and pesticide plants unwanted in
exporting benzidine-based dyes after they            the U.S., recently turned down an Ame-
were linked to cancer in the 1970s and U.S.          rican company's proposal to build an asbes-
production dropped off.                              tos-products facility. And Mr. Leonard of
                                                     the Conservation Foundation quotes a top
     Romanian officials insist they have             environmental official of Spain as telling
state-of-the-art pollution controls, but             him: "Spaniards are very proud people. If
American companies that build factories              we permit our industries to pollute our
f o r Romania say cost-cutting consi-                rivers, that is our business. But if a foreign
derations often lead the chemical ministry           country comes here and makes conta-
to skip the controls.                                 mination, it's an insult to Spain".
                                                         Such vigilance seems certain to increase
    Generally speaking, however, people in           now, just as it did in 1976 when a cloud
developing countries have become more                containing dioxins was loosed by an explo-
concerned in recent years about safety and           sion at a Hoffman-La Roche plant in
pollution, says Roger Moore, who is Du               Seveso, Italy. "What Seveso did for
Pont Co.'s group director for Latin Ame-             Europe," says Mr. Leonard, "It's likely that
rica. Says Mr. Moore: " I n some countries,          the Bhopal incident will do for developing
and I'd prefer not to name the countries,            countries. It will alert local citizens to the
people have said, 'Pollution means pro-              many dangers of chemical plants." In fact,
gress.' That was many years ago. I don't             be warns, i't may push them beyond concern
hear that anymore".                                  to "almost an exaggerated fear".

								
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