Each possible approach presents its own costs and benefits. For example, a non-MIC-based process for production of aldicarb means that there is no risk of worker exposure to MIC. However, that same non-MIC-based process could result in lower purity of the final material, which could result in greater risk of worker exposure to hazardous dust. Just-in-time production of MIC through a gaseous product would eliminate the risk of catastrophic release of that material within the community, but it would require a significant redesign of the facility and would, in its current form, result in a final product with lower purity than the existing process. In evaluating all of the alternatives, it became clear that no one method outperformed all others in every category of cost and benefit.
The above paragraph highlights some of the technical costs and benefits, but when evaluating alternative approaches, nontechnical considerations should also be considered. One example of this is the perception of the choice by the surrounding community. The facility in Institute, West Virginia, as is true for many chemical manufacturing facilities, exists in close proximity to the surrounding community. In such situations, it is important to recognize the influence that local communities can have on corporate decision making, whether welcomed by the company or not. For example, the suit filed by some members of the local community against Bayer played a role in the company’s decision to cease MIC and aldicarb production before the anticipated 2012 stop date. This is an example of how the perception of risk posed by the facility by the members of a surrounding community can affect whether a material or process is readily accepted, and the nature of the relationship between the community and the company may influence that risk perception.
At a basic level, a neutral or positive relationship between a facility and its community allows for open discussion about risks and responses. It allows for a sense of trust that the experts on site are operating with care and consideration. A negative relationship can influence the community perception of risk, lead to distrust, and create an environment of defensiveness and lack of engagement on important issues relevant to everyone involved.
The process ultimately chosen for the Institute site by the facility’s owners, although posing higher risks to the surrounding community due to the volume of MIC stored, decreases the amount of wastewater produced as compared with other methods and thus decreases potential damage to local surface waters.
Deciding between multiple process alternatives with conflicting trade-offs is a concern faced by any company. It is clear that the development of a method that companies could use to weigh all of the trade-offs involved when considering process choice from an inherently safer design perspective would be a useful tool for evaluating these concerns. A potential concern with using ISP analysis is that it may become focused too narrowly, and as a consequence, may overlook certain outcomes. Even when multiple outcomes are recognized, they may be inappropriately weighted. Both of these problems can result in a choice that does not reflect the optimal conclusion or the decision makers’ preferences.