For Immediate Release: Feb 05, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Court Orders Disclosure of Chemical Accident Emissions
Chemical Safety Board Shirked Its Clean Air Act Mandate to Protect Communities
Washington, DC — A federal judge has ruled that communities have a right to know what chemicals are released by industrial accidents in their midst, according to the opinion issued in a lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and community groups. The Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), charged with investigating chemical fires, explosions, leaks, and other accidents, to determine and disclose what air pollutants are accidentally emitted by any industry within the Board’s jurisdiction.
Despite a 1990 statutory mandate that the CSB “establish by regulation requirements binding on persons for reporting accidental releases into the ambient air,” the CSB has neglected to adopt any such rule. Yesterday, Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, found this nearly 30-year dereliction to constitute “unreasonable delay” and ordered the CSB to promulgate a final accidental chemical release reporting regulation within 12 months.
More than 1,000 industrial chemical accidents occur each year. Many release noxious fumes into their surrounding environs.
“This ruling vindicates a community’s basic right to know what chemical insult has been visited upon it,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “Accidents do not relieve industries of their clean air obligations or their duties to protect both worker and public health.”
Joining PEER in the suit were community and public health organizations, including the Houston Air Alliance, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities.
The suit was filed in 2017 shortly after the Arkema chemical plant in Houston experienced chemical fires and explosions amid flooding from Hurricane Harvey. First responders to the stricken plant claimed that no one was aware of the dangerous properties of chemicals released. As a result, first responders and residents experienced adverse reactions and were rushed to nearby hospitals.
In 2009, CSB took a tentative step to adopt such a requirement, placing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register. The notice – approved unanimously by the four CSB board members at the time, all appointed by President George W. Bush – declared “the CSB recognizes that a reporting regulation is clearly required by the statute.” At that time, CSB argued that a reporting requirement would also improve its ability to target its resources, launch timely investigations and preserve key evidence, and track patterns in chemical incidents to better prevent future accidents.
Today’s CSB consisting entirely of Obama appointees argued that the rule was not necessary and that it tracks these events mainly through media accounts.
“This suit underlines what a shadow of itself the CSB has become,” added Dinerstein, whose organization is also representing the former CSB Managing Director, Dr. Daniel Horowitz, who was removed last summer after being left on administrative leave for three years. “No one would argue that the U.S. is currently enjoying the golden age of industrial safety.”