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Dec 5, 2007

CSB Officials Encouraged with Progress Announced Today by New York City in Revising its Outdated Fire Code

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The following statement was issued by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in response to the announcement by New York today of a proposed draft to revise the city's fire code to include new provisions controlling hazardous chemicals.

Statement of CSB Board Member and Interim Executive William E. Wright:

Four years ago, the Chemical Safety Board called upon New York City to revise its nearly 90-year-old fire code to help prevent chemical accidents and fires in the city.

Our safety recommendation followed a tragic explosion in a Chelsea building in 2002. Dozens of people were injured, including New York firefighters who were there to rescue survivors.

I am encouraged that New York City is proposing the adoption of an updated model fire code that will better control the kinds of hazardous materials that caused the Chelsea explosion and have the potential to continue to threaten public safety.

This code is needed to control hazardous chemicals. I think the adoption and use of a modern fire code will make New York a safer place to work and live.

We would hope that other municipalities would follow suit and similarly revise outdated fire codes that fail to address the use and storage of hazardous chemicals.

Statement of Stephen Selk, PE, CSB Investigations Manager & Lead Investigator in Kaltech investigation:

Our investigation concluded the accident that happened in New York occurred when employees improperly mixed hazardous materials in the basement of a building in Chelsea, and the investigation also found that the New York City fire code did not adequately cover such hazards.

The CSB report called for labeling of hazardous materials, workers to be trained in handling them, and the separation of incompatible chemicals. The CSB also said businesses should be required to submit a hazardous materials inventory and management plan prior to obtaining permits. The Board further recommended that mixed-use buildings be required to develop hazardous materials safety plans, to be shared with the occupants. And the CSB recommended that the fire department and city environmental authorities establish a program to exchange information about hazardous chemicals stored at businesses. Revising the fire code to include these recommendations will make New Yorkers safer.

Background:

The CSB issued its final report on the April 25, 2002, explosion at sign maker Kaltech Industries during a public meeting in New York City in September 2003. The report concluded that employees improperly mixed hazardous waste materials in the basement of a mixed-use building, and that the NYC fire code did not adequately cover such hazards.

Earlier, at an April 2003 CSB field hearing in New York City, municipal officials acknowledged deficiencies in the existing city fire code, which originated in 1918. Following the completion of the report, then-CSB Board Member Dr. Gerald Poje testified twice before a New York City Council committee on the need for revamping the fire code. In March 2004, the New York City Council announced that the city's fire department would revise the code and had allocated substantial funding in the department's new budget to support the revision.

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, contact Sandy Gilmour, Public Affairs, 202.261.7614 or cell 202.251.5496, or Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613, cell 202-441-6074.

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