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Industrial Safety

US Senate confirms Chemical Safety Board nominees

Johnson and Owens raise the number of CSB members to three

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
December 13, 2021


Two new members of the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) were confirmed by the Senate Dec. 9. Since April 2020, the five-member board had been hamstrung, operating with a single member.

Sylvia Johnson.
Credit: Courtesy of Sylvia Johnson
Sylvia Johnson

The new members are Sylvia Johnson, an epidemiologist with labor union experience, and Stephen Owens, an attorney and former federal and Arizona state regulator who focused on environmental, safety, and health issues.

Stephen Owens.
Credit: Courtesy of Stephen Owens
Stephen Owens

President Biden also nominated Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist and toxicologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit organization, to CSB. Sass faced criticism from Republican senators during her confirmation hearing in September. Her nomination was not brought up for consideration by the Senate with those of Johnson and Owens.

The three nominees have chemical science, human health, and regulatory expertise. However, they lack direct experience working for the chemical industry. Historically, CSB members often were former industry employees with engineering backgrounds. The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, initially opposed the nominations of Johnson, Owens, and Sass.

The CSB’s primary responsibility is to investigate significant chemical-related accidents, determine their root cause, and make operational, regulatory, and other recommendations to avoid similar incidents in the future. Its recommendations are made public but are nonbinding.

In a statement, CSB Chairperson Katherine Lemos welcomed the new board members. “Each will bring unique perspectives and knowledge to investigations and final outcomes, to the strategic direction of our agency, and in advancing our advocacy efforts.”



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