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Statement of CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso on the death of former board member Isadore Rosenthal

Statement of CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso on the death of former

board member Isadore “Irv” Rosenthal

            It is with sadness today that I report the death of former U.S. Chemical Safety Board member Dr. Isadore “Irv” Rosenthal, who was a prominent chemical industry safety expert and a pioneering influence on the development of the CSB in its early years. He died of pneumonia Sunday, February 10, at the age of 87. The board and staff of the CSB extend our condolences to his family.

            Though I never had the opportunity to serve on the board with Dr. Rosenthal, I and many others at the CSB are very familiar with his reputation, his work, and his legacy in accident prevention

            Dr. Rosenthal was appointed to the board by President Clinton and served from 1998 to 2003.  Those who knew and worked with him here recall his total commitment to the work of the agency in preventing accidents and saving lives. His detailed technical knowledge of chemical process operations was highly respected by staff members, many of whom viewed him as a mentor in the field of root cause investigations and the development of safety recommendations.  

            Perhaps Dr. Rosenthal is best remembered for his work on the hazards of reactive chemicals as the CSB produced a landmark study on the subject in 2002.  The board called on OSHA and the EPA to widen their process safety and risk management standards to achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards that could have catastrophic consequences.

            In addition, he had a forceful commitment to getting industry and the government to improve the quality and quantity of accident data, persuading the EPA to improve its Risk Management Program (RMP) reporting requirements and successfully urging the CSB to develop and improve our own incident screening procedures.

            CSB Managing Director Dr. Daniel Horowitz began working with Dr. Rosenthal on a daily basis from mid-2000 and describes him as “Without question the source of great insight in our field, and a very warm, outgoing, and witty person.”

            Born on June 10, 1925 in New York City, Dr. Rosenthal was educated at NYU, Purdue and Penn State, where he obtained his Ph.D. in physical chemistry. He was the beloved husband of the late Corrine, Janice, and Judith, andhad four children and nine stepchildren.

            During a 2002 CSB public meeting in New Jersey on the subject of reactive chemicals, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg rose to speak but first turned his attention to Dr. Rosenthal, who was sitting with fellow board members Dr. Gerald Poje and Dr. Andrea Kidd Taylor.  The transcript reads:     

            SENATOR LAUTENBERG: Thank you very much, Dr. Poje, and the other members of the Board, Dr. Taylor. Dr. Rosenthal ---someone told me that you and I served in the same war, and we will let the audience guess which war that was.

            It was of course World War II. Dr. Rosenthal served for three years in the U.S. Army in the China-Burma-India theatre. He was a high-speed telegraph operator.

            Before joining the CSB, Dr. Rosenthal was employed at Rohm and Haas for 38 years in a variety of research, development, new business ventures and corporate staff positions. He served there as corporate director of Safety, Health, Environmental Affairs and Product Integrity.

           The list of Dr. Rosenthal’s accomplishments and contributions in the safety, health and environmental area fill many pages. I will just list a fraction of the organizations in which he was an active member: Official U.S. industry delegate to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention that developed the ILO Guidelines for the prevention of major chemical accidents; United Steelworkers Tony Mazzocchi Health and Safety Center; OSHA Reactive Alliance; OSHA Reform committee of the American Industrial Hygiene Association; Philadelphia Emergency Response Committee; Technical Advisory Committee of the Environmental Management Division of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the EPA Accident Prevention Subcommittee of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee. 

            He served on the Independent Safety Review Panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker III examining the 2005 accident at the BP Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers. The CSB had recommended that BP form such a panel to look into the corporation’s safety culture, and Dr. Rosenthal was one of the United Steelworkers’ two representatives on the panel.   

            After his retirement from Rohm and Haas in 1990, Dr. Rosenthal joined the Wharton Risk Management and Decisions Processes Center as a Senior Research Fellow. His areas of research focused on the management of risks associated with low probability-high consequence industrial accidents, market based alternatives to government regulation of industrial risks and the methodology of risk assessment. He returned to Wharton at the end of his CSB term. 

             In academia, in industry and at the Chemical Safety Board, Dr. Isadore “Irv” Rosenthal devoted his broad intellect and boundless energy to a singular cause: preventing accidents and saving lives. We are grateful for his service.  

 

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