From Chemical & Engineering News:

Daniel Horowitz, the recently appointed managing director of the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), began his first speech in his new role as top staff member with a grim litany of deadly chemical accidents.

Speaking to the CSB staff in September, Horowitz, an organic chemist with a decade of experience on the accident board, laid out a list of tragedies that occurred in the past century—a high school in New London, Texas, where unodorized natural gas exploded in 1937 killing 269 students and 24 teachers; a Los Angeles electroplating plant in which mishandled perchloric acid exploded in 1947 ending the lives of 17 people including a 12-year-old boy riding by on his bike; an Indiana refinery and tower that blew up in 1955, blasting tons of debris and killing a three-year-old boy sleeping in his home; a refinery in Sunray, Texas, where a pentane/hexane tank caught fire in 1956 killing 19 firefighters.

Horowitz then asked CSB’s accident investigators and safety experts to provide details of what went wrong.

“Even among our audience of chemical safety professionals,” he tells C&EN, “no one could provide details of exactly what happened. My point is that one day all accidents are doomed to be forgotten.

“The board’s challenge is to make sure that some permanent change occurs to a code, an industrial practice, or a regulation so that after the accidents, the victims, and the investigations have been swept away by time, something valuable still endures.”

Each older accident in some way, Horowitz says, mirrors one of the 60-plus accidents the board has investigated in the past 13 years. “We see emergency responders tragically killed trying to save property; we see siting issues with homes located too close to factories and refineries; we see unregulated reactive hazards at plants.”

For chemists, Horowitz’s professional path—from an organic chemistry major in graduate school to bench researcher to American Chemical Society congressional policy fellow to CSB managing director—shows the broad range of opportunities available for scientists who want to be public servants and apply their knowledge and experience to policy and government.

The small board on which Horowitz serves merges chemical science, industrial safety, and national policy through its charge to investigate and determine the root cause of significant chemical accidents. Although only in action since the late 1990s and with no regulatory power, CSB reports and recommendations have changed state and federal regulations, industry practices, and the codes of professional safety associations. With a five-member board, a staff of 46, including board members, and an annual budget of $10.6 million, CSB is a federal gnat.


A sample of CSB videos: