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In 1989, Congress searched the federal system to find any existing federal resources to deal with chemical accidents. A Senate report concluded, "Based on...review of the record with respect to chemical accidents and the measures that various federal agencies, states and other nations are taking to respond to chemical accidents, several conclusions are warranted... Accident prevention has great promise, but is not given sufficient attention in current federal programs...No agency of the United States government is actively engaged in efforts to prevent chemical accidents, today."
Fourteen federal agencies were actively involved in accident prevention at that time, so Congress further identified a need to "...improve the effectiveness of accident prevention programs and reduce the burden of duplicative requirements of regulated entities."
Industry representatives voiced support for the concepts in congressional hearings. After evaluating alternatives, Congress concluded there was a need to determine the causes of chemical accidents and identify solutions for prevention of future incidents. Congress determined that the best way to accomplish this task would be through the establishment of a national chemical safety and hazard investigation board. Thus, the CSB was authorized.
During the board's first year of operation, due to limited funding, its staff will include five board members, one senior advisor, four special assistants, five technical professionals and four secretaries/administrative assistants.
The CSB is headed by Paul Hill Jr., Ph.D. Hill brings many years of chemical experience to the board, having headed the National Institute of Chemical Studies (NICS), which was a nonprofit organization with a mission of public education, emergency preparedness, community safety, pollution prevention, hazard identification, risk reduction, and risk communication concerning toxic and hazardous chemicals.
Gerald V. Poje, Ph.D., a board member, specializes in policy for toxicology and chemical hazards. His background includes directing the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Phyllis G. Thompson, Ph.D., is a special policy assistant for the board. I worked with Thompson during her tenure with the Federal Emer-gency Management Agency (FEMA) as the technical training officer for the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Pre-paredness Program (CSEPP), which dealt with training issues for the Army's disposal of U.S. stockpiles of chemical weapons. During that time, I was impressed with her knowledge of training and chemical safety issues along with her dedication to FEMA and the CSEPP program.
Christopher W. Warner is a special assistant for legal operations. Warner, a lawyer, is a former advisor to the Interior Department. He will be the general counsel for the board.
Phillip S. Cogan is a special assistant for external relations. He is a former print and broadcast journalist and was the lead public affairs officer for 88 presidential disaster declarations. The office of external affairs will provide intergovernmental relations, act as a liaison with Congress, prepare publications and be the source of public information concerning the board's activities.
How To Report Incidents
All chemical accidents resulting in deaths, serious injuries or significant property damage should be reported to the CSB. If such a chemical release occurs, the National Response Center (NRC) must be notified at its toll-free number, 800-424-8802. The center is operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by the U.S. Coast Guard.
In addition to being the contact point for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the NRC receives reports of other types of chemical releases required under various federal laws and regulations. The NRC should also be notified if response organizations want to take part in the Environmental Protection Agency's reimbursement program for local expenses incurred at a chemical emergency.
Certain covered expenses may be reimbursed up to $25,000 if the NRC is notified within 24 hours of the time incident occurred. However, in reality, expenses incurred before the telephone call are not covered, so the call should be made early in the incident to insure eligibility for reimbursement. Before jurisdictions can seek reimbursement from the EPA, the NRC must have been called during the incident and all other efforts at collection from those responsible for the spill have been exhausted.