In the Aftermath of Chemical Accidents
In 1967, during a tumultuous era on American campuses, Rafael Moure-Eraso M’70 came to Bucknell University to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering. He was far from his birthplace in Cali, Colombia, and even farther still from his childhood home in Bogota, where he studied with the Augustinian friars and later attended La Universidad de los Andes. Mentored by Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering James Pommersheim, Moure-Eraso mastered chemical engineering. At the same time, he understood that the social awakening in the U.S. would transform his career. No longer could members of his profession simply consider products and outcomes. They would have to address the long-term effects of their work, in light of ecological and social sustainability.
In March 2010, President Obama nominated Moure-Eraso as chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), a governmental agency formed in 1998 to investigate industrial chemical accidents. Unlike the EPA and OSHA, which are regulatory agencies, the CSB is strictly investigative and does not issue fines or penalties, but makes reports and safety recommendations public. The 1984 chemical explosion in Bhopal, India, which killed more than 5,000 people and left hundreds of thousands injured, as well as a series of serious chemical accidents in the U.S., demonstrated the need for a national chemical investigative board. The agency’s investigations identify the root causes of chemical accidents and identify underlying safety deficiencies. Moure-Eraso intends for the agency — in its 14th year of investigations — to be more proactive than ever, supporting accident prevention through comprehensive investigations and recommendations.
Among the agency’s many current investigations, the probe into the B.P. Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout, which occurred in April 2010, grips the world’s attention. According to Moure-Eraso, the CSB is investigating the causes of the explosion, examining the blow out preventer and other equipment in cooperation with other agencies, and is conducting comprehensive interviews with all parties involved. The agency’s detailed report should be available by April 2012.
Says Moure-Eraso, “My profession has changed substantially, now that social contexts of production, such as sustainability, have become important. Equally important are implications of industrial accidents and the safety of workers, issues that the CSB will continue to examine in its investigations.” — Maria Jacketti