US Chemical Safety Board seeks quick access to blast sites

24 July 2013 19:58  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is working with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on an arrangement that will give CSB investigators quick access to accident sites, the CSB top official said on Wednesday.

CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said that the board has sought assistance from the DOJ to provide the board’s investigators “parallel access” to accident sites, evidence and key witnesses.

At the board’s recent effort to investigate causes of the West Fertiliser blast on 17 April that left 15 dead and about 200 injured, federal officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) barred CSB officials from the accident site because the ATF was trying to determine whether the accident involved any criminal activity.

CSB said that officials of the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) also denied CSB access to the site.

It is not the first time that CSB has been barred from entering a chemical facility accident site.  Federal and local police officials sometimes treat an explosion incident as a potential terrorist or criminal scene and seek to ensure that the site is secured so that they can collect evidence for a criminal determination.

But CSB’s efforts to investigate an accident and draw conclusions about likely causes is thwarted, said Moure-Eraso, when the board’s investigators cannot get on the site or talk immediately with critical witnesses.

“It is definitely a problem,” Moure-Eraso said.

As a consequence, he said that his agency has approached DOJ to see if that department can make some sort of arrangement that will allow CSB access to accident sites in parallel with investigators from the ATF or local police officials.

“We need access to the site, to evidence, and we need to be able to talk with witnesses immediately, while their impressions and observations are fresh in their minds,” he said.

He said that in this era of terrorism, the ATF and other criminal investigators want to determine as soon as possible if there was any criminal action involved in a blast or other accident.

Moure-Eraso said the ATF teams work aggressively to make determinations – often sifting through all the dirt in a blast crater.

“But we would like to have parallel investigative access as well”, he said.

He did not know when the Justice Department might be able to come up with a plan.

By: Joe Kamalick
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