Washington, DC, March 30, 2004 - U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt today released a letter praising the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for its initiative in forming a new alliance to address reactive chemical hazards, saying the effort "can help save lives, protect businesses, and spare communities from the devastating impact of reactive chemical accidents."
Reactive hazards exist when a single chemical or a mixture of chemicals has the potential to undergo a violent, uncontrolled reaction when processed or handled improperly. The chemical reactions can release large quantities of heat, energy and gases, causing fires, explosions or toxic emissions. A 2002 investigation by the Chemical Safety Board found 167 serious reactive incidents in the U.S. over the previous two decades. These incidents caused 108 fatalities as well as extensive injuries and property and environmental damage.
In the letter addressed to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, Merritt said she hopes the new Alliance to Identify and Manage Chemical Reactivity Hazards "will be a major step forward in a common quest to prevent serious accidents caused by uncontrolled chemical reactions." The Alliance, which includes the Environmental Protection Agency as well as major chemical industry trade organizations and universities, is designed to coordinate the dissemination of information on reactive hazards to businesses. A ceremony marking the creation of the Alliance was scheduled for today at OSHA headquarters in Washington.
Merritt stated: "One of the most striking findings in the Board's 2002 study, Improving Reactive Hazard Management, was that over 90 percent of reactive incidents involve hazards that are already recognized and documented in published literature. This finding speaks strongly to the need for greater outreach and dissemination of information to the management of facilities that process reactive chemicals." Merritt said she was looking forward to supporting the Alliance's work through coordination with the Board's own outreach and prevention efforts where appropriate.
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 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. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov. For more information, please contact Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell).