U.S. Senate Confirms UMass Lowell Professor as Chairman of Chemical Safety Board; Will Investigate Oil Spill

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell Prof. Rafael Moure-Eraso was confirmed by the Senate this week to chair the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

A member of the faculty at UMass Lowell for 22 years, Moure-Eraso begins his new position on Monday. On Tuesday, Moure-Eraso will attend a welcome reception hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House with other recent confirmed appointees.

“I am elated to take on this important role as chairman because the mission of the Chemical Safety Board to investigate root causes of chemical accidents to prevent future incidents, really sums up my life’s work,” said Moure-Eraso, who teaches prevention of work-related deaths and illnesses in the university’s Work Environment Department in the School of Health and Environment.

At the request of Congress, the board will investigate the causes of the accidental chemical release that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, which killed 11 workers and injured 17 others. New estimates from a government panel of scientists estimate that the ruptured well is leaking up to 2.52 millions of crude oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The rig explosion caused one of the worst man-made catastrophes in the world,” said Moure-Eraso. “To begin my new role as chairman of the Chemical Safety Board at this time is both satisfying and somber. I am looking forward to overseeing the investigation to get to the source of the explosion to prevent future tragedies, but the lives of those workers are gone forever. And the cleanup of the oil and restoration of marine life will take years or even generations. We need to learn from our mistakes and that is the critical role of the board.”

Moure-Eraso also will oversee a public meeting to release findings from the Kleen Energy natural gas explosion that killed six workers in Middletown, Conn., on Feb. 7.

“The confirmation of Dr. Moure-Eraso as chairman of the Chemical Safety Board reflects the university’s expertise in reducing toxics and creating healthier work environments,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan. “Rafael’s dedication, years of experience and compassion to protect workers by getting to the source of the problem make him an ideal person for the position.”

Mark Griffon, an alumnus of UMass Lowell, was confirmed as a member of the Chemical Safety Board. Griffon earned a master of science degree in radiological sciences from UMass Lowell and previously worked in the Department of Work Environment on training programs for hazardous waste and radiation workers, and in UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute on programs for electronics, chemical, plastics, paper and metal-working companies. He founded Creative Pollution Solutions Inc., of Salem, N.H., in 1992. Since 2002, Griffon has served as a member of the Federal Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health and chairs the subcommittee on dose reconstruction review. He also served on the Federal Advisory Committee on External Regulation of Department of Energy Nuclear Safety.

Similar to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates the causes of aircraft incidents, the Chemical Safety Board is an independent agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents and makes recommendations to appropriate health and safety regulators in order to prevent future events. A local investigation includes the Danversport explosion at an ink and paint plant in November 2006 that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 13,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu.