Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If you really want to depress yourself about chemical spills ...

Visit the website of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (http://www.csb.gov/) and read some of investigation reports. The CSB is an independent federal board charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the agency's board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The CSB conducts root cause investigations of chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities. Root causes are things like deficiencies in safety management systems, equipment failures, human errors, unforeseen chemical reactions or other hazards. The agency does not issue fines or citations, but does make recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry organizations, and labor groups.

Congress designed the CSB to be non-regulatory and independent of other agencies so that its investigations might, where appropriate, review the effectiveness of regulations and regulatory enforcement. Thus, these inquiries are intended to unmask systemic breakdowns, paving the way for reform.

However, a report by the Center for Public Integrity (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/01/13/14095/west-virginia-chemical-spill-probe-falls-overburdened-chemical-safety-board

"revealed how investigations into fatal accidents remain open, sometimes for years, amid what critics cite as a sluggish investigative pace. One former board member called the agency “grossly mismanaged.”
The number of board accident reports, case studies and safety bulletins fell precipitously since 2006, the Center found. The board’s executives said the agency was stretched thin, forced to decide which of the hundreds of “high-consequence” accidents that take place in the U.S. each year merit its attention. Agency representatives say the board is underfunded and must struggle to respond to requests — many of them from Congress — for investigations.

Even before the West Virginia chemical spill, a steady stream of serious accidents kept the small agency busy, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 to the fire at Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., in 2012 and the explosion at West Fertilizer in Texas last April."

Bold face added by me.

This NPR report is also well worth a listen http://www.npr.org/2014/01/14/262357242/feds-arrive-in-w-va-to-probe-chemical-leak as they discuss the lack of regulatory over-site of chemical storage facilities.  I hope that they add more details to the report online. 

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