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Mar 19, 2004

New York City Moves to Revise Fire Code Following CSB Recommendation in Kaltech Investigation

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Washington, DC, March 19, 2004 - Carolyn Merritt, Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), said today the Board is pleased with the progress of the City of New York in responding to the CSB's recommendation to revise its antiquated fire code to better control the storage and use of hazardous materials. The New York City Council announced in a March 5, 2004, news release that the city's fire department has decided to revise the code and has allocated substantial funding in the department's new budget to support the revision.

The recommendation to revise the code was contained in the Sept. 30, 2003, final report into the explosion at Kaltech Enterprises in the Chelsea district of the city, which occurred on April 25, 2002. Investigators found that employees improperly mixed hazardous waste materials at the company, and that the NYC fire code did not adequately cover such hazards.

Chairman Merritt said, "This is good news for residents of New York. A revised code will make a reoccurrence of the Chelsea explosion less likely. We commend the Mayor's office, the City Council and the Fire Department for taking on this major overhaul of the code. The CSB will be following developments and stands ready to assist the city in any way we can."

Dr. Gerald Poje, a CSB board member who visited the explosion site soon after it occurred and who testified twice before a city council committee on the need for a revamped code, said, "The Mayor and City Council, the recipients of our recommendation, are to be congratulated for enhancing the safety of New Yorkers by taking this big step forward. Hazardous materials, stored in mixed-use buildings throughout the city, need to be brought under a new code as the current one is antiquated. Lives will be saved and injuries avoided when the new code is in place."

CSB recommendations specialist Jordan Barab also hailed the action, saying the agency would follow the progress of the revision, which fire department officials said would take two to three years. "We hope at the end of that period to see a revised fire code in place and to be able to formally commend city's positive action."

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 such events, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing. 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. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.

For more information, contact Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell) or Sandy Gilmour Communications, 202-261-7614 / 202-251-5496 (cell).

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