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CSB must disclose chemical emission information after incidents, district court rules

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Washington — The Chemical Safety Board must release details about chemical emissions resulting from industrial incidents and produce a reporting regulation within 12 months, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Feb. 4.

The ruling affirms that 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act mandate CSB to “promulgate certain reporting requirements concerning accidental chemical releases” stemming from chemical fires, explosions, leaks and other incidents. Despite acknowledging the requirements of the act, the agency has claimed its inability to enact such reporting provisions does not constitute “an unreasonable delay.”

“The CSB’s only justification for its inaction is that it is ‘a small agency with very limited resources’ that has ‘prioritized its investigatory activities over [ ] rulemaking.’ … But, if that is the case, the solution to its resource constraints is not to ignore a congressional directive. It is to return to Congress and ask for relief from the statutory requirement,” the ruling states.

Watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and other environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against CSB in December 2017, about three months after an incident at an Arkema Inc. facility in Crosby, TX. Extensive flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused the facility to lose power, forcing employees to evacuate. Days later, organic peroxide products that had been stored inside a once-refrigerated trailer began to decompose, triggering a spontaneous combustion and fire.

Emergency response officials initially decided to keep an adjacent public highway open despite its proximity to the plant. As a result, 21 people sought medical attention for exposure to hazardous chemical fumes.

More than 1,000 incidents involving industrial chemicals occur annually, PEER states.

 

“This ruling vindicates a community’s basic right to know what chemical insult has been visited upon it,” PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein said in a Feb. 5 press release. “Accidents do not relieve industries of their clean air obligations or their duties to protect both worker and public health.”

The ruling represents the latest in a string of recent challenges for CSB. President Donald Trump, in his fiscal year 2019 budget, proposed eliminating the agency, but Congress has continued to provide funding. Vanessa A. Sutherland resigned as board chair in June, leaving two of five board seats vacant. Members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

According to the agency’s Performance and Accountability Report for FY 2018, CSB in FY 2018 issued 11 new recommendations “to improve chemical safety and reduce hazards.” Additionally, CSB completed eight safety videos, four interim investigative factual updates and three final reports – including a report covering the Arkema incident.

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