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Will bug cause chemical accidents?

An upcoming forum will focus on the risk of accidents caused by the Y2K glitch among those who manufacture, use, and transport chemicals in the United States.

Despite the dark clouds of impeachment hanging over the White House, the Clinton administration is pressing ahead with its efforts to bring the nation's computers into Year 2000 compliance.

The chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, John Koskinen, is set to take part in a forum on Friday on the Year 2000 technology problem and chemical safety, convened by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

The meeting will focus on the risk of accidents caused by the Y2K glitch among those who manufacture, use, and transport chemicals in the United States.

CSB representatives stated they tried to garner a unique group of attendees to represent a varied group of industries and organizations. A list of the attendees were not made available.

A spokesman for the CSB said the meeting is the first stage in an ongoing effort in trying to assess the Year 2000 problem within the chemical industry.

"We're trying to bring the different sectors--environmental, labor, [and so on] and cross-pollinate them together and get discussion going between groups that don't usually talk to each other on a regular basis," CSB spokesman Phil Cogan said.

Cogan said CSB is trying to assess the Y2K state of the chemistry industry, a challenging task because the industry is so diverse and has just begun addressing the problem on a wide-scale basis.

Back to Year 2000 Index Page "The meeting is part of a larger effort the CSB has under way," said Koskinen's spokesman Jack Gribben. "They are in the midst of preparing a report back to the Senate Special Committee on Year 2000, and they asked Koskinen to open the meeting with a big-picture perspective on Y2K."

The meeting is being held in response to a request by the Senate's Y2K committee, which has asked CSB chairman and CEO Paul Hill Jr. to formally report back to them next month. A committee hearing on the topic will likely follow.

Koskinen's constant message since his appointment as Year 2000 czar for the White House earlier this year, has been to build a Y2K conversion front based on relationships between the public and private sectors. Friday's meeting represents an effort by Koskinen and the administration to provide guidance in the chemical industry through the CSB.

On November 15, 1990, the U.S. government enacted amendments to the Clean Air Act, including one that authorized creation of an independent federal agency, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, to serve as a resource in the effort to enhance industrial safety. The board was modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates aircraft and other transportation accidents.

The Year 2000 bug originated in the design of the first computer programs. Those programs, which remain integrated into a large percentage of computerized equipment used today, register each year using a simple two-digit number. Therefore, when "00" rolls around on January 1, 2000, experts worry that many computers will identify the date as 1900--causing either delays, confused data, or complete breakdowns.