Government agencies are ramping up programs to prevent future chemical accidents.
Within days of the accident in Tulare, federal, state and county public health officials turned to a new assessment tool in an effort to reduce chemical accidents. Called ACE, or Assessment of Chemical Exposures, the investigation focuses on circumstances surrounding a chemical accident, the health effects and recommendations for prevention.
As a result of the federal visit, the state mailed an alert urging 1,200 metal recyclers to take only containers that are cut open, dry or without a valve or plug; treat closed containers as potential hazardous waste, and develop and practice an evacuation plan to stay upwind of a hazardous gas release.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a national trade association, sent the California alert to its 1,500 members in a weekly newsletter, said John Gilstrap, safety director. When he and his staff train employees in an OSHA 10-hour safety program, they warn that containers "are extremely hazardous unless they've been rendered incapable of holding pressure," he said.
Carrying out the practice of accepting only cut tanks may sound elementary, he said, but metal recyclers handle truckloads of scrap cargo and so monitoring is challenging.
In Tulare, Beverly Martinez, a Tulare native and seven-year employee of Tulare Iron and Metal, and the other workers now reject all uncut containers.
"We've turned away tons of tanks because they're not cut in half. I say, 'I don't care how good a customer you are. We're not taking it,'" said Martinez, an office manager.
"I can honestly say it was a life-altering event. I never came so close to death, or what you feel it would be. We all lived through it. That was the good thing.”
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.