Reuters: Lackluster system causes chemical ID’s to be overlooked

Chemical labels are a necessity for any company that is involved in the manufacturing, distribution and storage of hazardous materials. Without accurate and up-to-date product descriptions, businesses could put the lives of their employees or customers at risk.

The need for detailed descriptions goes beyond durable labels. According to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, organizations must issue an inventory listing potentially hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. This is called Tier II reporting. The information must then be released to the public so residents and emergency officials are aware of dangerous materials in their area.

A Reuters investigation found dozens of errors in Tier II reports, and that several facilities failed to report issues all together. For example, in 2006 a clothing company failed to say that it's Kentucky location was storing chlorine in that building. Two firefighters were exposed when they went to shut off a chemical valve and one suffered serious burns.

Gonzales, Texas has experienced similar issues, and fire marshal Mike Terry explained to the news source that one time, he was completely unaware that explosives were being stored at a depot until a reporter informed him. Had firefighters responded to a fire there, they could have been killed, he said. Terry added that it's a huge issue with the Tier II system, but also that inaccurate reporting is an industry-wide problem.

"When you do something and you don't get any feedback, you just sort of do it and get it over with," he said. "So it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of people were making mistakes out there."

An important first step is for companies to invest in a color label printer that allows them to create descriptions that adhere to GHS labeling standards. From there, it is up to company leaders to make the subsequent necessary reports to the proper authorities.

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