South Korean researchers visit Barnstable County

(l-r) Ron Fisette, Sean O’Brien, George Heufelder, Youngeun Choi, Phil Burt, Amy Alati, Shinbum Kim, Jae-soon Hyun, Won Kim, Dasom Jang, Hyemee Ko

(l-r) Ron Fisette, Sean O’Brien, George Heufelder, Youngeun Choi, Phil Burt, Amy Alati, Shinbum Kim, Jae-soon Hyun, Won Kim, Dasom Jang, Hyemee Ko

BARNSTABLE – On Friday, June 10, 2016, a delegation of South Korean researchers and a documentary filmmaker visited Barnstable County to learn more about how the County manages hazardous materials.

South Korea is attempting to modernize the regulation and handling of hazardous materials. It is looking at the United States Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 as a model. EPCRA was passed by Congress in response to concerns regarding the environmental and safety hazards posed by the storage and handling of toxic chemicals. These concerns were triggered by the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India. To reduce the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States, Congress imposed requirements for federal, state and local governments, tribes and industry. These requirements covered emergency planning and “Community Right-to-Know” reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals.

The Community Right-to-Know reporting helps increase the public’s knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses and releases into the environment. It also enables public safety organizations to be better prepared during emergency situations. EPCRA requires facilities to maintain material safety data sheets (MSDS) for any hazardous chemical used or stored in the workplace. The facilities must also submit those MSDSs to local and state government through a process called “Tier II” reporting.

The researchers from the Wonjin Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health were encouraged by Massachusetts officials to learn more about Barnstable County’s approach to EPCRA/Tier II through its Regional Emergency Planning Committee (BCREPC). The Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment (BCDHE) administers the BCREPC and EPCRA/Tier II reporting.

(l-r) Shinbum Kim, Dasom Jang, Youngeun Choi, Amy Alati

(l-r) Shinbum Kim, Dasom Jang, Youngeun Choi, Amy Alati

Delegation leader Shinbum Kim, Communication Director at the Wonjin Institute, said, “We want our residents and citizens to trust us. We also hope they would participate in our activity. We are now in the start-up phase and have a lot of things to learn.”

BCREPC coordinator Sean O’Brien presented a general overview of the role of the BCREPC, not only in hazardous materials but also general emergency planning for all hazards. Mr. Kim asked many questions working through translator Dasom Jang, a Master of Health Science candidate in the Environmental Health Science Department at Johns Hopkins University.

Joining Sean O’Brien in responding to Mr. Kim’s queries were BCDHE Director George Heufelder; BCREPC co-chair Wellfleet Police Chief Ron Fisette; Amy Alati, BCDHE emergency planner and Tier II program coordinator; Phil Burt, BCDHE emergency planner and coordinator of the BCREPC shelter system; and BCREPC Public Information Officer Kevin Morley.

One of the most pressing issues raised by Mr. Kim was the difficulty of finding people to handle the day-to-day task of identifying the facilities that must report their chemicals and then managing the process of having them do it. “It is hard to find people to do this kind of work,” he said.

Tier II program coordinator Amy Alati was able to draw on her own experience to provide the delegation with a profile of the ideal Tier II worker. She said it was important that the person have ground-level experience in working with hazardous materials with the proper education to back that up. “The person doing compliance needs to understand what the workers and facility operator are doing, how they are storing things and their safety procedures. You learn that by doing. If you find a person like that it is a good start.” In addition, she advised the delegation to look for people who are interested in educating people about hazardous materials and the reporting requirements.

After that, she says it comes down to pure passion for the job. “I know this type of compliance is confusing and can be very scary so I want to understand the facility. I want to keep the facility in business. I want to work with them.” Alati reported that during her career she has trained over 2,000 people in hazardous materials safety and awareness, chemical identification and the Tier II reporting process.”

The two-hour session at the Open Cape building at the Barnstable County Complex included discussions of other health and environmental issues ranging from oil spills to the incidence of cancer.

In addition to Mr. Kim and Ms. Jang, members of the Korean delegation included Wonjin Institute research director Won Kim; Wonjin Institute research assistant Youngeun Choi; Jae-soon Hyun, executive secretary of Toxic Chemicals Surveillance Network; and documentary filmmaker Hyemee Ko of the Korea TV and Radio Writers Association.

The delegation’s next stop in their fact-finding mission is Baltimore, Maryland.

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