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Jul 10, 2007

CSB Chairman Merritt Describes the Lessons from Five Years of Board Investigations to Senate Committee, Urges Additional Resources and Clearer Authorities for Federal Safety Efforts

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Washington, DC, July 10, 2007- In testimony today before a Senate subcommittee, U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt said that federal regulatory oversight of the petrochemical industry should be strengthened, BP's safety culture was flawed, and American communities are unprepared for chemical disasters.

In the hearing entitled "Lessons Learned from Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Investigations, Including Texas City, Texas," Chairman Merritt also discussed the CSB's tripled productivity since 2002 and called for improvements to the CSB's authorizing statute.

Today's meeting was the first hearing of the CSB oversight committee on chemical process safety issues since the establishment of the agency in 1998. The hearing was convened by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality, chaired by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). Chairman Merritt gave the opening testimony on the first of two panels.

Other witnesses included: Deborah Dietrich, Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Environmental Protection Agency; Kim Nibarger, Health and Safety Specialist, United Steelworkers; Scott Berger, Director, Center for Chemical Process Safety; Timothy R. Gablehouse, President, National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials; Steve Arendt, Vice President, ABS Consulting, Inc.; and Linda Hunnings, widow of one of the BP Texas City explosion victims.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) concluded in March 2007 that "organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation" caused the March 23, 2005, explosion at the BP Texas City refinery, the worst industrial accident in the United States since 1990. The final investigation report called on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to increase inspection and enforcement at U.S. oil refineries and chemical plants, and to require these corporations to evaluate the safety impact of mergers, reorganizations, downsizing, and budget cuts.

In her testimony, Chairman Merritt said, "Thorough implementation of existing OSHA and EPA process safety rules would prevent a number of tragic accidents, including the one in Texas City. Like other refineries, the Texas City facility was covered under both the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard and the EPA Risk Management Program (RMP) rule."

CSB's other investigations reveal a variety of common findings, Ms. Merritt said. "I have been greatly concerned by the lack of chemical emergency preparedness that our investigations have found among many communities where accidents strike. Preventing accidents and mitigating their impact requires an active partnership between communities and industrial facilities. If that partnership is missing the stage is set for a potentially severe impact on the community."

Chairman Merritt also urged the Committee to compare the CSB's existing statutory authorities with those of the older and more established National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). She pointed specifically to the authorities to preserve and test evidence, rapidly access the sites of chemical releases, and receive relevant records and information from other agencies.

Ms. Merritt told lawmakers that the CSB has accomplished a tripling in productivity on an annual budget that essentially remained flat for the entire five-year period and urged the Committee to consider a multi-year authorizations bill establishing funding targets and priorities for the Board. Chairman Merritt's testimony today will be the last in her five year tenure as Chairman and CEO of the Board. She said, "There is great admiration for what Congress has done in establishing an independent Chemical Safety Board. It is a very solid model that is in place in this country, but some changes and improvements are needed. I welcome the renewed attention and interest of Congress in these issues over the past several years, culminating in the hearing today."

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Jones at (202) 261-3603 or Daniel Horowitz at (202) 261-7613.

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