US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland announced her resignation
from the Board on May 21. Sutherland’s resignation comes amidst repeated threats from the President to de-fund the chemical safety agency, including a FY 2018 budget request that proposed eliminating all funding for CSB and a slew of other independent agencies.
Statement from Vanessa Sutherland:
“I am saddened to leave the wonderful mission and incredible work of the CSB. This mission is unique and critically important because we are the only agency conducting independent, comprehensive root cause chemical incident investigations. As we continue to recognize the agency’s 20th anniversary of operations, we still have much work to do to achieve our vision of a nation safe from chemical disasters. And I️ am absolutely certain that this team, and future hires, will both excel in execution and outshine our prior efforts. I’m fortunate to have been a part of the work.”
Running on a budget of $12 million or less per year and employing about 40 people, CSB has investigated 130 chemical accidents and issued hundreds of recommendations for improving chemical safety in the US. In April, the agency released a report on a 2017 hot work explosion in Deridder, LA.
Earlier this year, CSB released a case study and safety recommendations
related to a chlorine gas release in Atchison, KS.
Despite being created in 1990, the agency was not funded until 1998, following a chemical explosion in Lodi, NJ that killed five workers and led to pressure from politicians, unions, and community groups to fund the agency’s mission.
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What is the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB)?
Created by Congress in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the CSB’s role is to investigate serious chemical accidents, identify their root causes, and recommend measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. While the Board can make recommendations to governing agencies like OSHA and US EPA, it does not have rulemaking, inspection, or enforcement powers. [42 U.S.C. 7412(r)(6)(C)(i)-(ii)]
The CSB is also authorized to conduct research and studies regarding the potential for accidental releases, even in cases when a release has not occurred but there is evidence that hazards are present. [42 U.S.C. 7412(r)(6)(F)] Every four years, the Board releases its Strategic Plan, which outlines objectives.
CSB Structure and Term Limits
The CSB is headed by five Board members, each appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress to serve a fixed five-year term. The agency’s remaining board members must not vote on an interim executive as they wait to see if the White House will appoint, and if the Senate will confirm, a new chairperson.
Board members serve as the CSB’s principal spokespeople—conducting meetings, attending safety conferences and committees, meeting with leaders of other Federal agencies, writing for publications, and voicing the CBS’s recommendations to industry, government agencies, and other organizations. Appointments are based on technical qualifications; professional standard; and knowledge of accident reconstruction, safety engineering, toxicology, air pollution regulations, and related fields.
CSB chemical accident investigations are carried out by a dedicated professional staff of engineers, safety specialists, and attorneys, stationed across the US to expedite response.
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