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Chemical Safety Board vows to increase transparency amid leadership changes

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Washington — The Chemical Safety Board says it will resume providing updates on incident investigations to “provide important initial information” on agency developments.

Board member and interim executive Stephen Owens made the announcement during a CSB business meeting July 29. The agency had discontinued the practice in recent years.

The remark came as Owens and fellow board member Sylvia Johnson, who now comprise CSB leadership after Katherine Lemos stepped down as chair and CEO on July 22, indicated a desire for CSB to be more transparent. Owens acknowledged the agency’s investigative backlog while highlighting the work of an investigative team that has navigated staff turnover.

After discussion of a final agency report on an April 2017 incident at a St. Louis box company that killed four workers – CSB’s first report in 10 months – Owens recognized the investigator in charge, a recent agency addition, for efficiently completing the work of previous investigators who had left CSB.

“The turnover that CSB has experienced over the years, many of our reports are like that, where the investigations were conducted by investigators who are no longer with the agency,” Owens said. “And new people … who have come in and have done the work in terms of picking up the reports, reviewing the file, and then putting together a really solid and very effective report.”

 

At the beginning of the meeting, Owens addressed various ongoing CSB developments. They include his nomination, announced by President Joe Biden in July, to serve as agency chair and CEO. “I’m grateful to the president for giving me the opportunity to serve in such an important role.”

Owens’ nomination has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as has the June nomination of Catherine J.K. Sandoval to serve as a member of the board. The committee will likely conduct confirmation hearings, either in tandem or separately, for both nominations at a date(s) yet to be determined. CSB has three vacant seats.

Of Sandoval, Owens said the agency is “very hopeful she’ll be joining us in the near future.”

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