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Passaic Chemical Fire Raises Concerns About DEP Emergency Response And Chemical Safety Issues

DEP Emergency Response Reports To Gov. Via A Weak Link In The Chain of Command

Was Chemical Plant Subject to DEP Right To Know & TCPA Regulations?

Another “duck and cover” and “duct tape” job?


The NY Times concludes its report today on the chemical fire in Passaic thusly: (my emphasis)

Mr. Lora said that he had spoken to Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who dispatched state environmental and emergency management officials to the scene.

Mr. Murphy said on Twitter on Friday that he was urging “everyone in Passaic to stay safe.”

“Praying for the safety of our first responders on the scene,” he wrote.

So, let’s dispatch with the Gov.’s prayers – on Twitter no less – while I make just a few important observations about DEP’s Emergency Response program that some enterprising journalist may want to investigate.

(Does Gov. Murphy even know that stuff like this actually happens in NJ?:

First off, it looks like the chlorine Pool Trol Chlorine Stabilizer by Qualco, Inc. (Cyanuric acid CAS #108-80-5) is a chemical regulated by NJ DEP’s Right To Know program.

5. Fire Fighting Measures

Suitable Extinguishing Media: Use water spray, alcohol-resistant foam, dry chemical or carbon dioxide Special Hazards Arising from the substance or mixture: Carbon oxides, Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
Advice for firefighters: Wear self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighting if necessary.

7. Handling and Storage

Handling: Further processing of solid materials may result in the formulation of combustible dusts. The potential for combustible dust formation should be taken into consideration before additional processing occurs. Provide appropriate exhaust ventilation at places where dust is formed. For precautions, see section 2.2. Storage: Keep container tightly closed in a dry, well ventilated place.

Were their RTK plans up to date? When was last DEP inspection? What is the compliance and enforcement history here? Were local emergency responders aware of RTK hazards and fire prevention and emergency response?

Second, the DEP Emergency Response program was severely criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in how it responded to the toxic train derailment in Paulsboro, NJ, see:

A lot of the NTSB criticism involved various communications and management failures.

About 7:30 a.m., police radio transmissions suggested that the vapor cloud was “nontoxic.”  The police then changed the evacuation orders from mandatory evacuation to shelter-in-place. The police department did not become aware that vinyl chloride had been released until 8:30 a.m., just before the first incident command briefing. The situation was further confused when, at 10:30 a.m., the NJDEP publically (sic) announced that the hazard had dissipated. Therefore, the community protective measures were based on incorrect information about the released material.

…  The NTSB concludes that the dissemination of inaccurate public information about the release of vinyl chloride revealed the lack of an effective system for communicating to the public accurate information about the current situation following the accident.  (@ page 41)

These statistics indicate that many communities in the state still do not have NJSP-OEM-approved EOPs and that these communities are likely unprepared for emergencies that could occur in their jurisdictions, as was the Paulsboro community. This problem is  amplified by New Jersey home rule laws that keep authority for managing an incident at the lowest local government level, thus discouraging regional and state authorities from intervening in an incident, even when faced with obvious response deficiencies.

… The NTSB concludes that had the borough of Paulsboro [or NJ OEM] performed an assessment of the emergency response needs and capabilities for the hazardous materials that are present and transiting through its community, it would have been apparent that the emergency response capabilities and plans were inadequate for the types of high consequence incidents that can occur in the jurisdiction. (@ p.51-52)

Fact-based decisions regarding the community exposure did not occur until the unified command was established at 1:00 p.m., when the federal on-scene coordinator directed more information to be gathered about community exposures. (@ p.42)

Like many small fire departments throughout the country, the Paulsboro Fire Department was unprepared for large-scale hazardous material emergency responses. The frequency of hazardous materials train traffic through the borough would have suggested a higher level of awareness and preparedness. The firefighters need to understand how to respond to incidents involving such hazards and advise the community on whether to evacuate or shelter in place if a release does occur. (@p.47)

The NTSB concludes that the New Jersey firefighter certification and training requirements were not effective as demonstrated by the failure of emergency responders to conduct operations in accordance with established health and safety protocols and OSHA HAZWOPER standards, and their lack of familiarity with available tools to evaluate toxic exposure threats.  (@p.46)

Were those same flaws repeated in this Passaic fire? Who will ask DEP about all that?

Third, I Hear An Echo: Does anyone recall the real reason for Gov. McGreevey’s downfall?

It was not because he was gay.

It was because he installed his lover in a critically important emergency management post:(Wiki)

During his gubernatorial tenure, McGreevey—who was then married to Dina Matos —appointed Golan Cipel, his secret lover, as homeland security advisor despite Cipel’s lack of relevant experience or qualifications.

Now let’s explain that echo to the McGreevey administration.

The current Murphy DEP Emergency Response Program is headed by longtime veteran DEP manger Bon Van Fossen (see DEP Org chart). Despite scathing NTSB criticism, he is eminently qualified for that job.

So far, so good.

But notice from the DEP organizational chart that veteran DEP Emergency Response manager Bob Van Fossen reports to DEP Commissioner LaTourette (who reports to Gov. Murphy) through the DEP Chief of Staff, a very young and inexperience woman named Jane Rosenblatt.

She has no business being in that position and is totally unqualified for it.

She has ZERO education or experience in Emergency Management or Emergency Response or even DEP. NONE. NADA

How can Rosenblatt possibly be the Chief of Staff at DEP – reporting directly to the Commissioner and overseeing the DEP Emergency Response Program – when she has ZERO DEP experience and ZERO management experience? What kind of Commissioner would hire someone like that?

If that name sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because her father, Dave Rosenblatt, is a long time DEP manager and Chief Resilience Officer and Assistant Commission at the Murphy DEP. Slightly off the emergency response topic (but germane to the Commissioner’s judgement), but this Rosenblatt has his own issues:

Surely [LaTourette] must know that [his] chosen “Chief Resilience Officer” Dave Rosenblatt was DEP’s point person in dealing with former Gov. Christie’s “Sandy Redevelopment Czar” Marc Ferdan.

Thus, Gov. Murphy is dependent upon someone with absolutely no experience or expertise in how he gets his information from DEP regarding critical emergency response activities.

Thus, DEP Commissioner LaTourette – who reports directly to Gov. Murphy – is reliant on a Chief of Staff with no expertise or experience in communicating and managing complex scientific and regulatory issues involved in emergency management.

Thus, the community at risk of evacuation and the media are dependent on this same weak link in the DEP chain of command.

Just let that sink in.

Then call your legislator and demand legislative oversight at DEP.

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