When the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was authorized by Congress in 1990 under the Clean Air Act amendments, it stipulated a five-person Board.  For most of the last two years, the CSB has been operating at less than full capacity: only four of the five Board seats were filled.  Now there are only three of the five required Board members, and all three men (Chair John S. Bresland, William B. Wark, and William E. Wright) were nominated during the G.W. Bush Administration. 

The recent rash of industrial explosions and other damaging incidents (e.g., Valero Energy in Texas City, and American Acryl in Seabrook, TX) should compel the Obama White House to move quickly on nominating individuals for the CSB vacancies.  An editorial last month in the Houston Chronicle criticized the current CSB chair for deciding against a probe of the Dec 5 incident at Valero’s Texas City refinery and the Dec 9 event at American Acryl in Seabrook, TX.  The editorial’s lead was:

“If only a few workers die in an industrial accident, we won’t pry.  That seems to be the philosophy of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB)…”

CSB Chairman Bresland explained his decision was based on funding constraints, saying:

“We would like to investigate more accidents,but that would require additional resources from Congress.”

The follow-up question to Mr. Bresland from the Houston Chronicle could have been:

“Have you asked for more funding?”

Indeed some new leadership blood at the CSB should take advantage of the GAO recommendations from 2008, suggesting, among other things, that the agency “request necessary resources from Congress to meet its statutory mandate.”  I’ll be monitoring the U.S. Senate’s “Nominations page” and hope announcements about the  CSB vacancies come very soon.

Postscript: The CSB was modeled after the NTSB (established in 1967) and I was curious to see if it is suffering the same kind of leadership vacancies.   Yes it is.  The NTSB is also operating at 60% capacity and it appears that its empty seats date back to 2007.   It’s time for the Obama White House to ensure our public health agencies are operating at full capacity.