Chemical Safety Board Warns States of Y2K Hazardous-Materials Problems

The Chemical Safety Board has urged the nation's governors to make sure that they have taken suitable Year 2000 precautions for potential problems related to industrial chemical safety.

The CSB, a federal scientific investigatory organization, issued a letter to all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; the Northern Marina Islands; Guam; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands to note that large organizations and the federal government have been sufficiently active in addressing chemical-safety concerns but that medium to small-size entities have not.

Gerald V. Poje, a CSB board member, authored the letter to the states, which was accompanied by the agency's report to the U.S. Senate. That report, Year 2000 Issues: Technology Problems and Industrial Safety, is available at www.chemsafety.gov.

"While federal agencies are aware of and involved in technology and chemical-safety issues, significant gaps in surveillance, independent verification and compliance-assistance exist," Poje wrote in the letter. "The largest responsibility for public health and safety will reside at the state and local level, particularly involving the emergency-response community. State and local preventative actions are needed."

Poje's letter said a lesser awareness of general chemical safety, coupled with a lack of financial resources and technical know-how, have hindered state and local Year 2000 efforts toward hazardous materials. The letter suggested focusing on three key tasks to reach impending Year 2000 deadlines: provide easy-to-use awareness and assessment tools and training, promote accessible resources and provide incentives for Year 2000 compliance efforts.

The CSB cited the state of California as a leader in the effort to address chemical safety concerns, based on Gov. Gray Davis' executive order on the Year 2000. That order directed state agencies to prevent accidental releases of hazardous materials. California has more than 5,000 hazardous-material incidents annually but has only 62 specialized response teams.

Chemical-safety standards also were taken up on Capitol Hill last week when the Chemical Safety Information and Site Security Act, which prohibits posting chemical-disaster information on the Internet, was passed by the House Commerce Committee and sent to the Senate for action.

Fearing that wide access to such information would invite terrorist attacks, committee chairman Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.) introduced the act a year ago to ensure that local authorities who respond to chemical problems have immediate access to the data for chemical-disaster planning.

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