On First Anniversary of Investigation, Board Releases Data on 167 Serious Reactive Incidents

November 17, 2003
Washington, DC - September 17, 2003 -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today released detailed information on the 167 serious chemical incidents analyzed in the agency's landmark 2002 study on reactive hazards, marking the first anniversary of the Board's vote for broad new initiatives to control the dangers from uncontrolled chemical reactions.

The incidents covered are fires, explosions, toxic gas releases or other events where uncontrolled chemical reactions resulted in deaths, injuries, or damage, or had the potential to do so. All the incidents occurred in the U.S. between 1980 and 2001; together they were responsible for 108 deaths and numerous injuries. Following completion of the reactive study in September 2002, agency staff went back and reviewed information on each incident to ensure that it met criteria for public release.

The data released today include the location, date, and impact of each incident, as well as the names of the companies and chemicals involved, where known. Information on reported causes is also included. The reactive incident database is available in text and spreadsheet format from the Board's website, www.csb.gov, by going to the Improving Reactive Hazard Management page under Completed Investigations. The data are also available by request on CD-ROM.

"While complete information remains elusive, the database released today makes one point very starkly: reactive incidents occur frequently in the U.S. and cause terrible damage, said CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt. "We need further actions both regulatory and voluntary to better control reactive hazards and save lives by preventing future incidents."

Merritt noted that since the Board issued its new safety recommendations last year, reactive incidents have continued to occur. "Over the next several months, the Board will be completing investigations on six more reactive incidents that occurred recently in Ohio, New York, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. These incidents had the potential to cause multiple deaths and injuries, yet none of the chemical processes involved was regulated under current process safety rules. New regulations aren't the solution to every safety problem, but in this case there has been a glaring hole since the day the rules were first issued. Federal regulators should act now to close this gap."

Convening September 17, 2002, in Houston, Texas, the five-member Board unanimously approved a total of 18 safety recommendations intended to reduce the number and severity of reactive incidents. The Houston meeting, which included poignant testimony from victims of past incidents, culminated a two-year special CSB investigation into hazards at U.S. sites that manufacture, store, or use potentially reactive chemicals.

Among the 18 recommendations, the Board called on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to extend their process safety regulations -- known as the Process Safety Management standard and the Risk Management Program rule -- to better control hazards associated with chemical reactivity.

The CSB's investigation found that fewer than half of the 167 reviewed incidents involved chemicals covered under those regulations, which mandate a variety of good safety and engineering practices. Both EPA and OSHA have yet to issue final responses to the Board'ss recommendations.

The CSB is an independent federal agency established in 1998 with the mission to protect workers, the public, and the environment by investigating and preventing chemical accidents. The CSB determines the root causes of these accidents and makes safety recommendations to government agencies, companies, and other organizations. The CSB does not issue fines or citations or apportion responsibility for accidents. Additional information is available from csb.gov.

For further information contact Daniel Horowitz at (202) 261-7613.

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