Dr. Gerald Poje Testifies before New York City Council Committee on Need to Update City Fire Code in Wake of Kaltech Explosion

December 10, 2003

(New York City - December 10, 2003) Testifying today at a New York City Council committee hearing, U.S. Chemical Safety Board Member Dr. Gerald Poje said the city should update its antiquated fire code to prevent chemical explosions like the one that heavily damaged a Manhattan commercial building last year.

The city council is considering a bill that would require the city fire commissioner to review the 85-year-old fire code and recommend changes needed to address "modern fire hazards." New York City Chief of Fire Prevention Stanley Dawe also spoke at the hearing.

Appearing for the second time in recent weeks before the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services at City Hall, Dr. Poje said, "The bill before you represents a landmark first step toward a modern fire code for this great city. But the clock is ticking for New Yorkers" safety, and the need for an updated fire code is clear. I urge the Council and Mayor to move forward swiftly with the reform of the city's fire code."

Dr. Poje said that revising the 1918 fire code would help prevent serious accidents involving hazardous materials, adding: "I commend the Committee for taking the lead on this important issue."

A recently completed CSB investigation determined that improper mixing of incompatible hazardous wastes caused last year's building explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of downtown Manhattan. The CSB report found that the city's fire code did not adequately control chemical hazards at Kaltech Industries, the commercial sign-making firm where the explosion originated.

On September 30, 2003, the CSB voted to recommend that New York City revise that code to require chemical labeling, separation of incompatible materials, submission of a chemical inventory and management plan, and provision of training and safety information to employees. Had those requirements been part of the code last year and fully enforced, the April 2002 explosion would likely not have occurred, Dr. Poje said.

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. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.

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

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