(Washington, DC - July 21, 2003) Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) are en route to the site of yesterday's chlorine gas release at the Honeywell refrigerant plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The release early Sunday morning resulted in the hospitalization of four plant workers and required about 600 nearby residents to shelter in their homes. Several residents also sought medical evaluation.
The CSB team will begin a field assessment of the circumstances surrounding the chlorine leak, possibly leading to a full investigation into the root causes of the incident. Owing to the presence of chlorine and other hazardous materials at the plant, the Baton Rouge facility is covered under both the Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Management Program (RMP) rule and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Process Safety Management (PSM) standard.
CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt commented, "This is a tightly regulated facility that handles significant quantities of hazardous chemicals, including chlorine. We will be seeking information on any operating practices that may have contributed to this release." Ms. Merritt noted that the CSB recently completed another investigation of a chlorine gas release, at a repackaging facility outside St. Louis, MO, that caused a number of local residents to seek medical evaluation. "Due to its acute toxicity, chlorine must be handled with the utmost care," Ms. Merritt said. "Industry should be applying appropriate good safety practices to reduce the hazards associated with chlorine use, such as mechanical integrity programs, preventative maintenance, and effective emergency response."
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. 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 to prevent future accidents. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.
For additional information contact Sandy Gilmour at (202) 251-5496 or Daniel Horowitz at (202) 261-7613.