Obama Tackles Safety Board Vacancies

President nominates new chair and member for Chemical Safety Board.

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

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In late March, President Barack Obama announced his first nominees for the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB): Rafael Moure-Eraso, Ph.D., to be chair and Mark A. Griffon to be a member. If confirmed, these appointments would bring the board back to a full complement of five members.

That certainly should help the CSB in continuing to address failings the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited in 2008 (see "Chemical Safety Board Gets Rebuke"). The GAO faulted the board for not investigating enough accidents as well as for management and operational shortcomings.

The two men, if confirmed, each would serve a five-year term. They would join John S. Bresland, who became chairman and chief executive officer in March 2008 and who would remain a member, William B. Wark, a member since 2006, and William E. Wright, who joined in 2006 and acted as interim executive until Bresland became chairman.

Of course, given the partisan rancor in Washington, D.C., and the way confirmations have stalled in recent years, you have to wonder if, let alone when, the Senate will approve the choices.

Indeed, slightly later in March, President Obama announced 15 so-called "recess appointments" (ones made while the Senate isn't in session, to bypass the normal confirmation process). These nominees had been waiting seven months on average to be confirmed, according to a White House statement. The move will allow appointees to serve until sometime during 2011. While the step drew disdain from Republicans, Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Okla.) said in an interview he understood the President's frustration because most of the nominees were non-controversial, reported the New York Times. Other Presidents also have resorted to recess appointments.

The CSB would benefit from more board members with chemical engineering or chemistry backgrounds.

Let's hope the confirmation hearings for the CSB positions take place expeditiously.

Moure-Eraso currently serves as a professor in the Department of Work Environment in the School of Health and Environment at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He has been chair of the department for the past five years and a member of the faculty at the university for 22 years. Prior to that, he was an industrial hygienist/engineer at two unions, the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers and the United Automobile Workers.

In 1994–1995, he served as a senior adviser on the prevention of chemical exposure to the assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He also has been a member of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health for OSHA and the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

He holds bachelors and masters degrees in chemical engineering, as well as a masters and doctorate in environmental health (industrial hygiene). He belongs to a number of professional organizations, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

Griffon, after several years in academia, in 1992 founded Creative Pollution Solutions, Salem, N.H., which provides consulting services for, e.g., waste-site characterization, remediation, and health and safety audits. He has served as a member of the Federal Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health since 2002. He received a baccalaureate in chemistry and a masters in radiological sciences.

The CSB undoubtedly would benefit from more board members with chemical engineering or chemistry backgrounds. Now, the only member with such educational credentials is Bresland, who has a degree in chemistry and is a member of AIChE and the American Chemical Society.

Moure-Eraso told CP: "I am honored to receive this nomination from the President. I have been a chemical engineer working on issues of process safety since 1972. My work at UMass Lowell for the past 22 years has been to bring engineering concepts to the prevention of occupational and environmental hazards — concepts I have shared with more than 350 graduates from our program. I cannot think of a better environment to develop prevention strategies than the U.S. Chemical Safety Board."

We should wish them speedy confirmation and success on the CSB. After all, a more effective board is in the chemical industry's best interest. Thorough investigation and broad dissemination of what went wrong at plants are crucial for maintaining awareness of mistakes and avoiding their repetition, as I recently stressed ("Grasp All the Lessons of Bhopal," www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2009/240.html.


Mark Rosenzweig is Editor in Chief of Chemical Processing. You can e-mail him at MRosenzweig@putman.net.
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