Ross: Regulations are key in preventing more hazardous chemical spills

Apr 18, 2023, 7:28 AM | Updated: 10:22 am

boat Regulations...

A fire onboard a fishing boat has been ongoing since early Saturday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard said, but crews are still working on containing the blaze. (Photo from South King Fire & Rescue)

(Photo from South King Fire & Rescue)

Between the train derailments, the fire at an Indiana plastics recycling plant, and the boat fire in Tacoma – a lot of nasty stuff has been pouring into the atmosphere in the last few weeks.

So I asked Ron Holcomb – former spill responder with the State Department of Ecology (who you could argue had one of the most toxic jobs ever created) — to give us his take.

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There are a lot of complaints these days about onerous government regulations. While some of these complaints are valid, recurring environmental disasters demonstrate the need for strong regulations that are strictly enforced.

Weeks of cleaning up from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio highlighted the dangers of transporting hazardous chemicals.

And last week, a 236-foot Trident seafood fishing vessel in Tacoma caught fire and burned for days. Fortunately, the 55,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board did not leak. That wasn’t the case for 19,000 pounds of Freon.

The Coast Guard reported the refrigerant was lost when high heat from the fire caused pressure relief valves on the cylinders to open. Freon reaching the stratosphere destroys the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Just two years ago, another Trident seafood fish processing vessel caught fire in the same location. The NTSB report found the company failed to follow proper procedures during repairs.

Although it’s too early to know what caused the recent fire, I’m certain it too will be determined to have been preventable.

Another toxic fire is in the news, this one at a plastics recycling facility in Indiana. Burning plastic produces highly toxic chemicals and 2000 people living within a half mile of the fire were ordered to evacuate.

Just like the Tacoma vessel incident, it’s too early to know what caused the fire, but fire and building code violations reportedly weren’t enforced.

While regulations may appear to be annoying, the events of the past few months remind us why they are needed. And for businesses, the cost of compliance is far less than the cost to clean up and deal with the impacts of an oil spill or hazardous materials incident.

Not to mention the negative news media attention they attract. Companies that experience such disasters no doubt regret that the rules weren’t followed, or that they didn’t do more to prevent it from happening.

Ron Holcomb documented his numerous encounters with burning wreckage in a book titled “CONSTANT CHAOS: The Daily Battle to Protect the Environment.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: Regulations are key in preventing more hazardous chemical spills