CSB releases details on Optima Belle explosion event, remains behind on investigations The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released an incident summary on the explosion that occurred December 8, 2020, at Optima Belle LLC in Belle, WV. The explosion occurred in an industrial drying unit that was removing water from chlorinated dry bleach. One worker was fatally injured during the incident, and a local resident was injured after a projectile from the explosion landed on the nearby highway. According to the investigation findings, the company was doing a trial batch when the explosion occurred and as a result, the CSB is working with the company to sample and test the chlorinated dry bleach powder involved in the incident. The investigation is ongoing as of the writing of this piece and the CSB will eventually report on the explosion’s cause or probable cause.

The CSB still has only a single board member and currently has a backlog of 14 open cases dating from 2016 onward. According to board member Katherine Lemos, CSB staffers have been asked to take on management responsibilities as the agency awaits additional board members. In 2020, the agency hired six investigators. According to previous board member, Manny Ehrlich, these additional duties for non-board members could create a conflict of interest, particularly as investigators are supposed to remain impartial while board members are charged with making recommendations based on the investigations. The Biden administration can appoint board members (who are confirmed by the Senate) at any time. However, there has been no indication that the administration will be making appointments to the agency in the near term as the focus has been on other issues and presidential appointments.

The CSB, Washington, DC, is an independent federal agency that investigates and determines the cause or probable cause of industrial chemical incidents resulting from the accidental release of regulated or extremely hazardous substances into the ambient air. (5/21)