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CSB Board Member Sandoval stressed the significance of chemical safety at UHLC EENR lecture

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May 03, 2024 – Catherine J.K. Sandoval, United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Agency Board Member, described the agency's work as akin to a "rolling disaster movie," underscoring the importance of preventing chemical incidents. Speaking at an Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center lecture at the University of Houston Law Center, Sandoval explained how the CSB investigates chemical incidents in both public and private sectors, identifies gaps in regulations, and determines the root causes of industrial accidents.

“We deal primarily with fires, fires with explosions, toxic clouds and suffocation. It’s really a bad set of circumstances where we’re trying to figure out what happened. The families are very interested in who’s responsible, which brings you back to tort law. The work of our investigators is critical in establishing that,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval

 

Sandoval and Dean

Sandoval summarized three recent CSB investigations in Texas: The Intercontinental Terminals Company fire in Deer Park; the Watson Grinding explosion and fire in Houston; and the Wendland 1H Well explosion in Burleson County. The investigations identified the root causes of the incidents and made recommendations for revisions for operational practices to the companies involved, as well as offering recommendations to the regulatory agencies responsible for putting rules of operation and safety in place.

In a review of CSB’s past statistics, 162 chemical safety incidents were reported between March 2020 and July 2022, which included 25 deaths, 92 serious injuries and 68 instances of substantial property damage.

The CSB, operational in 1998 after its authorization as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, collaborates with regulatory bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Health and Safety Agency.

“The CSB is a non-regulatory agency, so we make root cause analysis and then we make recommendations to prevent these incidents. We make recommendations to the private sector including to the operating companies, to standard-setting bodies including industry associations and trade associations but to also governments, to federal state and local governments anybody else who has power or any authority to address these things,” said Sandoval.

Sandoval was joined for the presentation on “Safety, Environmental Justice, Equity and the Law Presentation” by CSB investigators Ben Schrader and Harold “Butch” Griffin.

The field of process safety involves looking at technologies, procedures and management practices to help ensure a safe and healthy workplace and to protect the community and the environment. Rules have been developed under the EPA that mandate process safety plans.

Sandoval noted the CSB is currently looking into developing an internship program. Opportunities are growing for student research, she added, with a lot of room to look at safety gaps, legal gaps and their impact on the community.

Sandoval is a graduate of Yale University, was the first Latina Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and is a graduate of Stanford Law School, where she was a member of the Stanford Law Review. She is a tenured law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law in California.

For more information about the University of Houston Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Center and available programs of study, visit https://www.law.uh.edu/eenrcenter/

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