The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) proposes that companies report immediately and directly to the CSB accidental chemical releases sufficient to trigger an investigation.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating and finding the root cause of chemical accidents that result in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damages. The 1990 legislation that created the CSB required the board to create a reporting regulation, but it has never finalized one. Instead, the CSB has relied on press accounts and other incident reporting to determine which accidents it investigates.
Over the years, several federal agencies and community groups have urged the CSB to issue the reporting regulation. In 2009, the CSB issued a proposal and then dropped it due to a combination of implementation costs, lack of funding, and industry opposition, according to sources familiar with the proposal.
Several nonprofit advocacy groups, including Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Air Alliance Houston, then sued the agency. On Feb. 4, 2019, a US District Court judge ordered the board to issue the final rule within 12 months.
The proposal released by the CSB on Dec. 11 says that any incident serious enough to qualify for an investigation—such as a death or damages above $1 million—would require the company involved to file a brief report within four hours of an accidental release. The information in such reports could be changed, corrected, or updated without penalty.
CSB believes as many as 200 accidents per year could merit an investigation. However, the board, which had a budget of $12 million for fiscal 2019, takes on only a half-dozen accidents annually.
The proposal is a “missed opportunity,” says Daniel Horowitz, a former managing director of the CSB. The reports, he says, are likely to be “bare-bones,” and he urges the CSB to require companies to submit more detailed follow up information—like Contra Costa County already mandates in California—to help guide the accident assessment process. He also laments that the information would not immediately be made public and could only be accessed through Freedom of Information Act requests.
In a statement, Scott Jensen of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, says, “We recognize and value the importance of keeping government officials informed of an incident at a chemical facility, and we intend on providing the CSB constructive feedback as they move forward with their rulemaking.” However, the ACC must poll its members before commenting in depth on the rule, he says.