Carolyn Merritt Dies | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: September 3, 2008

Carolyn Merritt Dies

Former chair of chemical safety board succumbs to cancer
Department: ACS News
Merritt made chemical safety speeches to some 80 companies, community groups, and others each year.
Credit: CSB
Merritt made chemical safety speeches to some 80 companies, community groups, and others each year.
Credit: CSB

Carolyn W. Merritt, 61, who for five years led and reinvigorated the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), died on Aug. 29 in St. Louis after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Merritt took over the board's helm in 2002 when it was struggling with its role as an independent agency responsible for investigating chemically related industrial accidents. At the end of her five-year term in August 2007, she retired from the board, leaving CSB with a strong record of successful investigations, influential reports, and new allies in corporate boardrooms, labor halls, fire departments, and community centers.

A former high school science teacher and, for 35 years, a senior-level corporate environmental, safety, and health professional, Merritt's work with CSB—unraveling the cause of industrial accidents—was a good match for her experience and energy.

Merritt came to CSB just a year after taking early retirement from the chemical conglomerate IMC Global.

"I like to work," she told C&EN in 2002 as she began her new job at CSB. "I am a problem solver, and I enjoy going in where there is a mess and getting it straightened out."

Merritt took the early retirement, she explained recently, when she began treatment for breast cancer and was looking for a rest (C&EN, Aug. 13, 2007, page 38).

"You don't know how many years you have left—maybe 20, maybe two. I thought I'd enjoy myself—travel, garden, and do the things I really didn't have time to do in a corporate job. But when the phone call came from CSB, it seemed the perfect opportunity. I was not going to let cancer define me. I was not going to be a victim.

"God gives us these opportunities, and it is up to us to take them if they come," she said.

After CSB's far-reaching investigation of the 2005 BP Texas City, Texas, refinery explosion, Merritt became a "crusader for greater corporate investment in chemical process safety," says CSB Chairman John S. Bresland, who adds that "she elevated the term 'safety culture' into company boardrooms around the world."

Merritt is survived by her husband Steve, and two children Shannon and Matt.

Chemical & Engineering News
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