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Chemical Safety Board Chair Speaks on Campus

Prof. Moure-Eraso Shares Root Causes of Industrial Chemical Explosions

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Emeritus Prof. Rafael Moure-Eraso, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board

By Karen Angelo

When Emeritus Prof. Rafael Moure-Eraso began his post as chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in June 2010, one of his first tasks was to release findings at a public meeting about the Kleen Energy natural gas explosion that killed six workers in Middletown, Conn.

He was back on campus in January for The New England Consortium's advisory board meeting, reporting on how CSB’s investigations into the root causes of industrial accidents are leading to improvements that will protect workers and the public. The board does not issue fines or citations, but does make recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies, industry organizations and labor groups. The Kleen Energy investigation is one of many examples that have led to specific actions to protect the public.

During his presentation, Moure-Eraso showed a video that reenacted, through animation, how the deadly blast occurred. For two days, the company released a large quantity of natural gas to clean debris from pipes, a technique called “gas blows.” The natural gas found an ignition source and exploded, fatally killing six workers.

“Based on the CSB’s investigation, the governor of Connecticut issued an Executive Order to prohibit gas blows, and the National Fire Protection Agency enacted emergency code changes,” said Moure-Eraso who is one and a half years into his five-year presidential- appointed position.

The Perfect Background for the Perfect Job

President Obama nominated Moure-Eraso Chair of U.S. Chemical Safety Board in March 2010 and the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment in June 2010. The position validates his life’s work protecting the health and safety of workers.

Moure-Eraso came to UMass Lowell in 1988 as an associate professor in the newly created Work Environment Department. In the 22 years since, he has helped expand the department, which is considered to be the nation’s leading graduate program in designing safe and healthy work standards. 

Before joining UMass Lowell, he was a visiting lecturer in occupational health at the Harvard School of Public Health and worked at the U.S. Department of Labor as a special senior adviser on prevention of chemical exposures to the assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. He also served 15 years as an industrial hygienist engineer with the national offices of two international unions – United Automobile Workers and Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers.

He is currently overseeing 14 investigations of chemical accidents, including the BP/Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.