CSB Releases New Ammonia Safety Video in the Same Week Chair Resigns

As one of his final acts in office before resigning permanently as head of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), Chair Rafael Moure-Eraso and the CSB released a new video outlining ways that employers can prevent anhydrous ammonia accidents.

The video, Shock to the System, builds on one of the final high profile investigations taking place while Moure-Eraso was chair — the 2010 release of more than 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the air at Millard Refrigeration Services, a frozen poultry export facility in Theodore, Alabama that maintained a large ammonia refrigeration system. The accident occurred when an employee improperly triggered the venting of low-temperature ammonia into evaporator coils that were still filled with hot ammonia gas. This created a dangerous wave of liquid ammonia that caused a pressure surge known as “hydraulic shock.” The result was an airborne ammonia release that caused over 150 people to suffer chemical exposure, and 32 to be hospitalized.

In a related press release announcing the availability of a CSB safety bulletin on preventing hydraulic shock, former chair Moure-Eraso said, “The CSB believes that if companies in the ammonia refrigeration industry follow the key lessons from [the CSB’s] investigation into the accident at Millard Refrigeration Services, dangerous hydraulic shock events can be avoided - preventing injuries, environmental damage, and potential fatalities.”

Moure-Eraso’s term was set to expire in June of this year, but his early departure — had been expected in some quarters — and was first reported on the CSB’s Twitter account.

Moure-Eraso had recently come under fire from politicians on both sides of the aisle for his handling of numerous incidents at the CSB, and misuse of personal email for sending work-related messages.

Results of an independent investigation released in February of this year pointed to a toxic leadership culture within the CSB under Moure-Eraso. Among the findings were that:

  • 80 percent of CSB employees felt “much frustration with top leadership”
  • 60 percent identified a “lack of accountability” in senior leadership
  • 53 percent felt there was a “lack of collaboration by senior leadership in decision making”
  • And 47 percent said that there was a “climate where senior leadership discourage dissenting opinions”

Other indicators that leadership change for CSB was imminent include recent letters issued on behalf of the President and the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. On March 3, President Obama’s staff issued a press release announcing his intent to nominate Vanessa Allen Sutherland to replace Moure-Eraso at the end of his term.

In a March 18 letter to President Obama, 14 members of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked that Moure-Eraso be preemptively removed, before the end of his term, as well as two of Moure-Eraso’s CSB colleagues.

Shortly after, on March 26, Moure-Eraso issued a farewell message. In it, he said that “It has been a privilege to serve the agency since June 2010. My wishes are for the continued success and productivity of the Board.”

Though no longer chair, Moure-Eraso will remain as a regular member of the board until mid-April. The Shock to the System video will be permanently housed on the CSB’s media room page.

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