Chemical Safety Board on budget chopping block

March 22nd, 2017 by Julie Ferguson

Photo: Chemical Safety Board

One of President Trump’s key campaign promises was to keep Americans safe, but apparently that promise should come with an asterisk. The news that the Chemical Safety Board is on the budget chopping block contradicts that promise – unless by “safe” we are only talking about threats from sources external to our borders.

The 40-employee Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is the only independent government agency that investigates industrial chemical disasters, issuing reports and safety recommendations to benefit industries throughout the nation. It issues no fines or penalties and makes no rules. Its investigations and reports also identify weaknesses in emergency planning and response that have preventative value not just for workers but also for the communities surrounding potentially hazardous work sites. Its annual budget of around $11 or 12 million is minuscule, particularly when measured against the enormous human and financial toll that a single chemical industrial disaster can inflict.

The Houston Chronicle doesn’t mince any words when talking about the impact of the agency’s demise: ‘Death and destruction’ expected as Trump moves to gut Chemical Safety Board

“A White House proposal to eliminate funding for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board signals a full retreat from two decades of progress against chemical disasters and would, if enacted, put American lives in jeopardy, health and safety experts said.

While little known to the masses, the CSB is to chemical disasters what the much better-funded National Transportation Safety Board is to airline crashes, train derailments and bridge collapses. Without the recommendations that come from these boards, preventable accidents repeat themselves.”

Texas is no stranger to chemical catastrophes. The CSB was instrumental in investigating the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 and the 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company that rocked the small town of West, Texas. That incident killed 5, injured more than 250 and damaged 150 buildings.

In Trump Budget Would Eliminate Chemical Safety Board, Jack Kaskey and Jennifer A. Dlouhy of Insurance Journal also highlight the important role that the CSB plays in investigating accidents, and offers several concrete examples of industry recommendations that enhanced safety practices in dangerous industries.

“The CSB makes no rules and issues no penalties, but often identifies dangerous industry practices that are overlooked by enforcement agencies. Its scope of responsibility has included multi-fatality disasters from a 2013 fertilizer distributor in West, Texas, to BP Plc’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout in 2010.

CSB probes have led to many industry improvements that have saved lives without gaining public notice, said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers of America. After a 2012 fire at a Chevron Corp. refinery in Richmond, California, the CSB discovered that the pipe used was subject to corrosion and rupture because of the materials it carried. Though there were no rules against using that kind of pipe, the industry changed its practice because of the CSB, Wright said in a phone interview.”

The CSB issued this statement in response to news of the cuts:

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is disappointed to see the President’s budget proposal to eliminate the agency. The CSB is an independent agency whose sole mission is to investigate accidents in the chemical industry and to make recommendations to prevent future accidents and improve safety. For over 20 years, the CSB has conducted hundreds of investigations of high consequence chemical incidents, such as the Deepwater Horizon and West Fertilizer disasters. Our investigations and recommendations have had an enormous effect on improving public safety. Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public is safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB. As this process moves forward, we hope that the important mission of this agency will be preserved.


Here are just a few other notable CSB investigations we recall:

Other commentary on the proposed elimination of CSB



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