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Obama nominates Tufts professor for U.S. chemical safety board

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 03:01

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Alonso Nichols / Tufts University

Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine Beth Rosenberg will leave Tufts for five years to serve on the presidentially-appointed U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

 

After being nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board on Sept. 20 of last year, Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine Beth Rosenberg was officially confirmed to the position by the United States Senate on Jan. 1.

Rosenberg will be leaving Tufts for five years to serve in Washington, D.C. and plans to return to campus at the end of her appointment, she said. She arrived in the nation’s capital earlier this week.

“I am very sad to leave my home at Tufts,” Rosenberg said. “I was [at Tufts] for 15 years and there are many people in my department whom I love. I feel like I am going off on a big adventure, and I will come home in a few years,” Rosenberg said.

The role of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is to investigate industrial chemical accidents and to discover their causes, according to a mission statement on the board’s website. The board then makes safety recommendations with the hope of preventing future accidents.

“One of the advocacy roles is to convince other agencies and other stake holders, whether it is the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or the National Fire Protection Association, or the chemical industry, about what steps need to happen next in order to prevent the incident from happening again,” Rosenberg said.

After applying for the position, the process leading up to confirmation took about 10 months, according to Rosenberg.

“To be confirmed felt exciting and a little scary, because I had been thinking for the last 25 years about what makes work places safe and healthy, and now I have a chance to implement what I have been learning, and it is exciting,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg decided to apply for the role at the recommendation of Professor Rafael Moure-Eraso, a professor in the Department of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Rosenberg’s doctorate alma mater. Moure-Eraso is currently Chairperson and CEO of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. 

Rosenberg said that the government was very concerned about conflicts of interest for members serving on the chemical safety board.

“The White House Office of Personnel [Management] went over my finances to see if I had any investments with chemical companies that might present a conflict of interest,” she said.

Tufts University School of Medicine Professor and Chair of Public Health and Community Medicine Aviva Must said that Rosenberg’s colleagues in the department will miss Rosenberg when she is in Washington, D.C.

“We will find people to cover the courses that she teaches and take over the responsibility in the department, but she is not replaceable,” Must said. “She is a unique individual that has exceptional assets, but we are looking forward to her return from Washington with the experiences that she gained from this government agency, and it enriching her teaching to make her an even more valuable asset to Tufts.”

Rosenberg explained that she hopes to fight for the average worker in her time on the board.

“I hope to be a bridge between the chemical safety board and other agencies that can improve worker health, and although it sounds trite, I really hope to make a difference in the lives of people who work in the petrochemical industry because it is a really dangerous industry,” she said.

According to Rosenberg, she has spent part of the past seven years researching health and safety conditions at former nuclear weapons sites, influencing her perspective on the role of the worker in forming safety regulations.

Rosenberg said she developed a belief that workers’ voices need strong protection during time she spent in the early 2000s in Chinese and Vietnamese garment factories with Associate Professor of Economics Drusilla Brown as well as Ann Rappaport and Francine Jacobs, both lecturers in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department.

“I learned that workers need a collective protected voice in order to have safe working conditions, and that means a strong union,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg also previously served on the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act’s Science Advisory Board, an experience that required negotiating skills that she can use on the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, she said.

Rosenberg is confident that her experience in Washington will aid her work in the classroom when she returns to Tufts.

“I look forward to going to Washington and doing interesting and valuable things, and then coming back to Tufts and teaching students about what I have learned,” she said.

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