Washington, DC, July 18, 2023 -- On July 12, 2023, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) submitted a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urging FEMA to include the location of chemical facilities and their proximity to communities in FEMA’s National Risk Index (NRI) – a tool developed by FEMA that identifies communities that are most at risk from natural hazards like hurricanes and other severe weather events.
The CSB’s letter is in response to FEMA’s Notice and Request for Information concerning its implementation of the Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act of 2022. The Act seeks to identify disadvantaged communities most at-risk from natural hazards and fund resilience projects to support those areas in the event of a natural disaster.
The CSB recently investigated two serious chemical incidents that were the direct result of catastrophic weather events. They are the massive 2017 fire at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, that was the result of flooding due to Hurricane Harvey, and the 2020 fire at the Bio-Lab, Inc. Lake Charles facility in Westlake, Louisiana, that was caused by high winds from Hurricane Laura. Both incidents resulted in significant negative impacts to the surrounding communities – including evacuations, shelter-in-place orders, highway closures, and the need for community members to seek medical assistance.
In its letter, the CSB notes that chemical facilities are often located in close proximity to communities that are socially and/or economically disadvantaged. Those communities are potentially at risk for harm from chemical hazards if an incident resulting from an extreme weather event occurs at a nearby facility.
CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said, “We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments to FEMA on this very important matter. The CSB believes that including the location of chemical facilities and their proximity to surrounding communities as factors in the National Risk Index will help protect communities from chemical disasters caused by extreme weather events.”
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating incidents and hazards that result, or may result, in the catastrophic release of extremely hazardous substances. The agency’s core mission activities include conducting incident investigations; formulating preventive or mitigative safety recommendations based on investigation findings and advocating for their implementation; issuing reports containing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations arising from incident investigations; and conducting studies on chemical hazards.
The CSB’s board members are appointed by the president subject to Senate confirmation. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.
Please visit our website, www.csb.gov. For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at [email protected]