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A letter from an alumnus about teaching students about toxic waste and safe waste disposal

May 15, 2002

As I approach my 50th reunion, I would like to share the credit for a significant contribution to society with Princeton and in particular with the Department of Chemical Engineering. This not been made public before. I consider this my best gift to my beloved country and to "Princeton in the nation's service."

In 1979 the nation and myself, working as a process design chemical engineer, were greatly concerned with waste pollution. One evening, after watching a TV program on toxic waste dumping in New Jersey, I decided to act. I contacted one of my professors at Princeton (Dr. Richard Toner) by phone to find out if courses in toxic waste identification and disposal were in the curriculum, and he told me that none were being taught at Princeton, and as far as he knew there were none in any other colleges.

I then sent a letter to Congressman James Florio, (enclosed) who was chairman of the Congressional Subcommitee on Transportation and Commerce, which was in charge of Superfund legislation. The essence of the letter is stated here, "That all students in chemical engineering and chemistry should be required to take a one semester course in toxic waste identification and methods of safe waste disposal. Then, in their professional lives they could no longer in good conscience ignore the consequences of inaction when this issue came to the table in their work."

For this idea I received a citation from Congress (enclosed). My letter also became part of the Superfund Congressional Record. I was told by Florio's committee that Congress does not participate in forming college curricula.

I then wrote to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, informing them of this idea and my contacts with Congress (enclosed). The head of their Education and Accreditation Committee, Dr. George Burnet, at Iowa State University, thought that my idea was a good one, and promulgated it at upcoming meetings of his committee. Shortly after this, courses in waste pollution control started to appear in college curricula all over the U.S.

Franklin B. Horowitz '55
Stamford, Conn.


April 9, 1979

Hon. James Florio
U. S. House of Representatives
7126 Longworth
Washington, D. C. 20515

Dear Mr. Florio:

On March 29, 1979, 1 watched a program on TV Channel 7 at 10 p.m.

The name of the show was "The Killing Ground", and the content was a documentary on the dangers of pollution by illegal disposal of liquid wastes. They showed how toxic wastes in 55 gallon drums are trucked to land sites and allowed to leak into the ground.

I am a chemical engineer, Princeton '55 and Brooklyn Polytech '63. The TV program stirred my conscience to try to do something to stop the pollution of our land.

The idea that I came up with was to do it through education, in our colleges, by requiring or encouraging, by public law or incentives, that all students'enrolled in Chemical Engineering or Chemistry take a one semester course in the identification of toxic substances and their health hazards, and the application and design of pollution control systems for the safe dispo~al of hazardous wastes.

When I was in college this subject was not in the curriculum. Last week I contacted Prof. Richard Toner, (Chem. Engr. Dept) at Princeton. He told me that they still do not have such a course, but that it was a worthwhile idea. The effect of such a course would be far-reaching, since these are the principles that professionals, such as myself, who design and operate chemical plants carry throughout our lives. Obviously, it is not possible to clean up the present mess with education, but I am looking toward the future. Nobody that graduates in these disciplines would be able to say that they are unaware of the dangers of toxic wastes, or the methods to treat them safely. Industry is starting to act, due mainly to the prodding of government. Formal training would add the dimension of the conscience and intellect of the individual, two of mankind's most powerful tools.

On Friday, April 6, 1979, 1 had a phone conversation concerning the above, with your Assistant, Shelia Brown, who was most kind and helpful.

If there is anything more that I can do in this area, please let me know. I am willing to cooperate on a volunteer basis.

Respectfully yours,
Franklin B. Horowitz


Mr. Franklin B. Horowitz
143 Hoyt Street, Apt. 3H
Stamford, Connecticut 06905

Dear Mr. Horowitz:

Thank. you for your letter regarding the need for education in the identification of toxic substances and problems relating to the safe disposal of hazardous wastes.

I agree with your view that education is an essential component to a successful program of identification of toxic substances and the safe disposal of hazardous wastes. As you may know, the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Commerce, of which I am Chairman, has recently held hearings on the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. These hearings addressed the encompassing issues of hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, and toxic substances.

Your thoughts are, indeed, insightful. Your suggestion of requiring or encouraging students of Chemical Engineering or Chemistry to take a course in the identification of toxic substances and their health hazards, and the application and design of pollution control systems for the safe disposal of hazardous wastes has merit. I believe an increased awareness of these problems could have far reaching benefits for society.

Once again, thank you for expressing your thoughts and concerns to me. If any new developments arise from your efforts, if you hear of any such development, or if I may be of assistance, please feel free to contact me.

James J. Florio, Chairman
Subcommittee on Transportation and Commerce
Congress of the United States


October 25, 1979

Franklin B. Horowitz
143 Hoyt St. Apt. 3H
Stanford, CT 06905

Dear Mr. Horowitz:

This is in response to your letter of October 8, 1979 in which you suggested that steps be taken to establish a required course in chemical engineering and chemistry curricula in all colleges in the United States to teach the identification of toxic substances and the design of pollution control systems. You also kindly enclosed copies of your correspondence with Congressman James J. Florio. While I cannot respond in an official way for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AlChE) I would like to comment on the points you have raised.
There is a felt and agreed upon need for the type of instruction you are proposing. As a chemical engineer, you are undoubtedly aware of the recently developed Dynamic Objectives of the AIChE. One of the Dynamic Objectives deals with education and calls for the reintroduction of industrial chemistry to the undergraduate chemical engineering curriculum. It would seem that the type of instruction you are proposing would help satisfy this need.

Responsibility for initiating actions to meet this objective has been assigned to the AIChE Education and Accreditation Committee of which I am chairman. We are now working with the Committee on Professional Training (chaired by Dr. H. S. Mosher, Stanford University) of the American Chemical Society since we feel that instruction in industrial chemistry will be of value to both chemistry and chemical engineering students. I will see that your thoughts and those of Congressman J. J. Florio, as mentioned in his letter to you of June 15, 1979, are brought to the attention of those working on this assignment.

In your letter you mentioned the need for students to be familiar with the design of pollution control systems. The accrediting agency for engineering programs in the United States, the Engineers' Council for Professional Development, has recently restated its definition of engineering design to include a more applied emphasis. In design courses we now find our students working on case studies and receiving instruction from individuals from industry who are assisting as adjunct faculty. The design problems deal not only with technical matters but with the social, legal, economic, and other related topics. This is another place in engineering curricula where problems that deal with hazardous wastes and toxic substances can be included.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this timely subject with me. Your ideas will prove helpful and the results should be evident in the responses to the AIChE Dynamic Objective on education.

Sincerely yours,
George Burnet
Chairman, E&A Committee
American Institute of Chemical Engineers

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