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Industrial Safety

US Chemical Safety Board operation threatened as members dwindle

New members must be nominated by President Trump, who has proposed eliminating the agency

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
May 28, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 22

Photo of people walking through debris wearing masks and hard hats.
Credit: Jose M. Osorio/TNS/Newscom
The Chemical Safety Board is investigating a May 3 explosion that killed four people.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) may soon fail to function unless President Donald J. Trump appoints new members, warns an oversight report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The CSB is a small, independent agency that investigates chemically related industrial accidents to determine the cause and recommends safety improvements for companies and agencies. Trump has proposed eliminating it in three budget requests, but members of Congress have continued funding.

The CSB is required by statute to have five board members. Because Trump has neither appointed new members nor extended current appointees’ terms, the board now has only three members. The OIG report notes that one member’s term will expire in December, another in February 2020, and the third in August 2020.

The OIG also notes that for nearly a year, CSB has functioned without a permanent chairperson, despite members of Congress urging the White House to nominate one.

The EPA OIG, which is charged with overseeing the board, points out that CSB’s regulatory language is confusing, “leaving open whether a single board member may constitute a quorum” needed for decision-making, the oversight report says.

“Regardless,” the OIG continues, “it is clear that allowing the board to reduce to one or zero members will deeply impair the ability of the board to conduct such critical business as deciding which investigations to open and the finalization of reports.”

In a statement, CSB says it appreciates the challenges outlined by the OIG and is “refining and revising our internal governance documents.”



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