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Jan 23, 2002

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Launches Probe of Fatal Alabama Mill Incident

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(Montgomery, Alabama --- January 23, 2002) Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) Tuesday continued their examination of last week's fatal incident at Georgia Pacific Corp.'s Naheola Mill. Meanwhile, a CSB Board member who met Tuesday with plant management at the mill says he is appreciative of the company's pledge of cooperation with the CSB investigation.

Dr. Gerald Poje, one of three Presidentially-appointed members of the CSB, met with Georgia Pacific representatives at the mill northeast of Pennington in north Choctaw County.

The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency that protects workers and the public by investigating serious chemical incidents and determining their root causes. The Board issues safety recommendations to prevent future accidents.

Two contractors working at the mill were killed last Wednesday by a toxic gas release. Fourteen people were injured and affected, including six Choctaw County emergency medical responders.

"Our focus is on learning safety lessons for the future, and thus most companies cooperate fully with our investigations," Poje said. "So far in this investigation the CSB has had excellent cooperation from Davison Trucking, Burke's Mechanical, Inc., the PACE and IBEW unions, the state pathologist, county coroner, and emergency responders," he said. On Tuesday, the CSB investigators began receiving documents from Georgia Pacific and scheduled interviews with company officials.

"Today I received assurances from Georgia Pacific Corporation representatives that they share our common goal of improving worker and public safety. The company's help is very important," Poje said.

"We owe the victims of this terrible incident, and their friends and families, and all those who are at risk of similar incidents, nothing less than a timely and complete investigation of exactly what happened and how we can keep it from happening again," Poje said. "We also need to find ways to keep emergency responders safe when they're put at risk coming to the aid of victims of such incidents," he added.

Congress has granted the Board certain legal authorities to aid in its investigations, including the ability to gain access to accident sites and, in rare cases where it is required, subpoena witnesses and evidence. The Chemical Safety Board does not issue citations or levy fines in connection with its investigations.

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