Katherine Lemos, chair of the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, resigned June 10, ending a 2-year period in which she was the leader and sole member of the board. She terminated her position shortly after two new board members had assumed positions on the board and 2 days after President Joe Biden nominated another person to the board.
The board is supposed to have 5 members, who are nominated by the US president and confirmed by the Senate.
Lemos’s resignation followed disagreements with the two new board members over leadership direction and board management decisions, according to several people familiar with the CSB, a non-regulatory agency with authority and responsibility to investigate chemically related, significant accidents. Lemos’ senior adviser, Bruce Walker, also resigned. Lemos and Walker came from the aerospace industry, and neither had direct chemical-related industry or academic experience.
The new members are Sylvia Johnson, an epidemiologist with labor union experience, and Steve Owens, an attorney and former federal and Arizona state regulator who focused on environmental, safety, and health issues.
Lemos had been appointed by former president Donald J. Trump, the only CSB appointment he made during his presidency. He attempted to defund the board three times, but each time its budget was restored by supportive members of Congress. Nevertheless, the last several years have been difficult for the CSB given the funding uncertainty. The board has found it difficult to recruit and retain staff, particularly experienced accident investigators, even in less turbulent times.
Lemos hired several former officials with the National Transportation Safety Board for top positions at the CSB. Shortly before her resignation, Lemos hired managing director Susan Kantrowitz, also from the NTSB, and the heads of human resources and information technology. These three people also recently resigned, sources tell C&EN.
Complicated management problems have plagued the board since it was first funded in the late 1990s. CSB officials were unwilling to comment on recent events.
“The agency has had its share of ups and downs,” says Kristen M. Kulinowski, who formerly led the CSB and is now director of the Science and Technology Policy Institute at the Institute for Defense Analyses. “I hope these latest developments usher in an era of stability and success, for the sake of the agency’s dedicated staff and its many stakeholders.”
Steve Sallman, director of health, safety, and environment for the United Steelworkers, says, “It is our hope that Katherine Lemos’s and Bruce Walker’s resignation will be an opportunity for rebuilding this small but vital agency. This is a key moment in a time for improvement.” He adds, “The CSB staff and new and future board members will need bipartisan support in Congress and labor and industry stakeholders to make our nation safer from chemical disasters.”
Lemos’s resignation letter states that she will leave effective July 22, according to Bloomberg.
This story was updated on June 13, 2022, to correct the date Bloomberg reported that Katherine Lemos plans to leave the Chemical Safety Board. It's July 22, not July 11.
The story was updated on June 18, 2022, to correct the timing of Lemos’s resignation: it was 2 days after a new member was nominated, not 1 day. The name of the National Transportation Safety Board was also corrected. It was originally written as National Safety and Transportation Board. The description of the new nomination was also changed to note that President Joe Biden nominated her. The original description of the member being “a third” didn’t account for the existing nomination of Jennifer Sass.
This story was updated on June 18, 2022, to add comments from Kristen M. Kulinowski and Steve Sallman.