News | June 22, 1999

Board of Inquiry to be Convened for Tosco Fire

The Chairman of the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) will convene a Board of Inquiry as part of the agency's investigation into the February fire that claimed the lives of four workers and seriously injured another at Tosco's Avon, CA refinery.

"The Board of Inquiry is a fact-finding opportunity for the four CSB board members. It permits us to gather information about the incident and hear first-hand from investigators and others prior to making determinations of cause and issuing recommendations," said CSB Chairman Dr. Paul L. Hill, Jr. "The Board's work in this investigation is important to the families and communities that were affected by this terrible incident, and it is also important to the oil refining industry to help it gain knowledge that will contribute to safe operations and accident prevention. The Board of Inquiry will be a way to gain insight into what happened in February and should create an inclusive public record of the facts which will be considered by the Board in its final analysis."

Investigators from the CSB will present their preliminary investigation findings during the Board of Inquiry, which will be convened in the chambers of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in Martinez, CA on Wednesday, August 18, 1999. Other organizations that are conducting their own investigations will also be invited to present their findings. The Board of Inquiry will be immediately followed by a "public comment session." The CSB is completing the first phase of its investigation as it attempts to determine the causes of the incident and develop recommendations on how similar incidents may be prevented in the future.

Although the event will be open to the public, no public testimony is taken at a Board of Inquiry. Only CSB investigators and invited representatives of official investigative organizations make presentations. However, because of the intense community interest surrounding the Tosco incident, Chairman Hill has decided to conduct a public comment session immediately following the Board of Inquiry. People wishing to speak during this session may sign up in advance to make presentations, up to 10 minutes in length, by writing the CSB Office of External Relations, US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2175 K. Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20037-1809. Written submissions may also be sent by e-mail to: Writers should include their full name, mailing address, day and evening phone numbers, and the organization, if any, that they represent.

"I want to make sure that anyone else with first-hand knowledge of the events surrounding the incident knows that they are encouraged to submit their information to the CSB in writing during a formal three-week comment period which follows a Board of Inquiry," said Hill, who added that all comments, whether during the Board of Inquiry technical presentations or during the public session, must be related to the Tosco incident. "Since our purpose and authority is to investigate this incident and determine the causes, all testimony must contribute to understanding the facts of this tragedy," he said.

The CSB has been directed by Congress to conduct investigations and report on findings regarding the causes of chemical incidents. Those findings will be used to recommend actions to improve the safety of operations involved in the production, transportation, and industrial handling; use; and disposal of chemicals.