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Updated: Louisiana Still Backs Project Planned By Russia’s EuroChem

Back in July 2013, the Russian fertilizer maker EuroChem, in a joint press release with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, announced it was planning to build a $1.5 billion ammonia and urea complex in Louisiana.

At the time, the announcement was just one in a long line of chemical and fertilizer projects meant to take advantage of shale. The project seemed plausible enough. There have been plenty of foreign companies planning large U.S. projects–for example, South Africa’s Sasol, which is working on an ethylene cracker and gas-to-liquids plants in Louisiana.

At the time of the announcement, EuroChem had just completed its purchase of BASF’s European fertilizer business. Certainly, like Braskem and SABIC before it, EuroChem is one of those companies outgrowing the cradle of its home market.

Louisiana offered good incentives to EuroChem. It sold a tract in Iberville Parish to the company for $12 million. In the original announcement, the state also said it would give EuroChem an $8 million grant as well as other incentives.

So what has happened since the announcement?

Russia has annexed Crimea. And Vladimir Putin appears ready and willing to salami slice more of Ukraine. (We’ll see if the agreement between Russia and the U.S. to deescalate matters will, in the long run, be a turning point or merely an intermission.)

Will the State of Louisiana still support the project under such circumstances? Would EuroChem still want to go through with it?

Sasol, we should remember, divested from a complex in Iran when protests over it seemed to jeopardize its Louisiana projects. It isn’t outrageous to suppose that the EuroChem plant might be one of Russia’s costs of taking over parts of a sovereign nation.

I put the question to both the State of Louisiana and EuroChem. EuroChem didn’t get back to me. I am not surprised.

Louisiana Economic Development, the state agency that promotes investment, did comment with a quote attributable to Stephen Moret, Secretary of Economic Development, State of Louisiana:

“LED remains in full support of the project.”

Not exactly William Henry Harrison’s inauguration speech, but it gets the job done.

It might also be the smartest answer. Foreign policy is the responsibility of the Federal government, not a state’s. And should a state decide to pull support for an investment because it didn’t like the foreign policy of a company’s home country, it would send the message that the state conducts its business arbitrarily. That could have a chilling effect on investments from China, Saudi Arabia, and any other country that could one day butt heads with the U.S. government or run afoul of American populist sentiment.


Eurochem has responded, and they don’t seem inclined to back off either:

“EuroChem remains fully committed to establishing a presence in Louisiana,” a spokesperson tells The Chemical Notebook.

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Bethany Halford.

Veggie view: MRI of broccoli. Credit: Inside Insides via OffBeat
Veggie view: MRI of broccoli. Credit: Inside Insides via OffBeat

Finally, the all-important medical techniques being used to create awesome Internet posts. Observe: MRIs of fruits and vegetables. [OffBeat]

How chemists help Cadbury create those crazy crème eggs and other Easter goodies. [Guardian]

Bad news, nappers. Not only are you missing out on life while snoozing, you’re also going to die young. [Gawker]

In a risky experiment involving voodoo dolls, snack deprivation, and couples therapy, researchers show that “hanger” (hunger-induced anger) exists. [NPR]

One way to avoid hangry prom dates? KFC corsages, of course. [NBC News]

Not really science news, but this Nebraska toddler who found his way into one of those claw machine things is some sort of genius, right? [Huffington Post]

Macro lens meets photogenic molluscs. These snail pictures almost make us want to invite these guys into our gardens. [Bored Panda]

When seeking treatment for rare genetic disorder, researchers go through the trouble of cloning goats. Why? “It is cheaper to feed goats than to feed cell lines,” they say. [Digital Journal]

This Week On CENtral Science: Percy Julian, #sherisangji update and more

Tweet of the week:

Before we head to the network highlights, just a note that this overlord will be taking a spring break, so Grand CENtral will, too. And no, we are not headed to party central in Cancun with Beaker.

To the network:

Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots and Tribute To A Numerical Inorganic Icon: Kenneth Wade

Terra Sigillata: Google Features Percy Julian, Legendary African-American Chemist and The Case Of The Malodorous Metabolite

The Chemical Notebook: Coke Committed To Plant Bottle Despite JBF’s Bio-based Ethylene Glycol Cancellation

The Safety Zone: People v Patrick Harran: Opposition to the appellate court petition and Chemical safety tidbits and papers, from OPRD

The Watch Glass: Birthdays abound: Percy Julian and Robert Burns Woodward, plus Liner laminate

Tribute To A Numerical Inorganic Icon: Kenneth Wade

University of Durham chemistry professor Kenneth Wade, famously known for the borane electron-counting rule that bears his name, passed away on March 16 at age 81. Chemists at the University of Nottingham, led by big-haired chemistry professor Martyn Poliakoff, have prepared a lovely video tribute to Professor Wade as part of their Periodic Table of Video series.

wadeChemists use electron-counting rules to determine bonding patterns in different classes of compounds, such as the familiar octet rule for first- and second-row elements, the 18-electron rule for transition metals, and the Hückel 4n + 2 rule for aromatic compounds. However, these rules don’t readily apply to electron-deficient molecules such as boranes that utilize multicentered bonding–a pair of electrons shared between more than two atoms–so other rules have been devised.

In 1971, building on the collective observations of other chemists, Wade formulated his n + 1 rule. Wade’s rule states that a cage molecule with a geometry based on a closed polyhedron constructed of triangles with n vertices will possess n + 1 skeletal bonding electron pairs.

Wade’s rule and its corollaries have been refined and extended by a number of researchers. When coupled with spectroscopic studies and theoretical calculations, these rules have been successful in showing the structural interconnections between boranes, carboranes, other heteroboranes, carbocations, organometallic complexes, and transition-metal cluster compounds.

Hats off to Professor Wade.

Google Features Percy Julian, Legendary African-American Chemist

What a fantastic surprise this morning on the 115th anniversary of Percy Julian’s birth:


Screenshot of Google search page on 11 April 2014 features chemist, Percy Julian. Credit: Google

Screenshot of Google Doodle on 11 April 2014 features chemist, Percy Julian. (Credit: Google)


I’m beside myself with joy to see this pioneering chemist be recognized by the most prominent search engine in the world.

I don’t know where to begin about Julian but I’m sure that many of you have seen The Forgotten Genius, the PBS-produced NOVA life story of the chemist. Julian suffered many indignities in his training, from being denied dormitory residence while earning his B.S. at DePauw University to progression to racial issues limiting him to a M.S. at Harvard. He later completed his Ph.D. work at the University of Vienna in 1931.

Julian is probably best known for using natural products as a template for making drugs. His first major feat, the synthesis of physostigmine, a cholinesterase inhibitor from the Calabar bean used to treat glaucoma has been recognized by ACS as a National Historic Chemical Landmark at DePauw University. This 11-step synthesis from phenacetin, the active metabolite of acetaminophen, was completed with his Vienna colleague, Josef Pikl, and students in the laboratory.

Julian synthesized cortisone, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone from the Calabar bean compound, stigmasterol. Later, at Glidden Paint Company, a happy accident led Julian to find that soybean extract (soya oil) also contained the 17-member sterol nucleus, a much more accessible source. At this time, we had absolutely no treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. But cortisone, then made by Merck in a laborious 36-step synthesis, was found in 1949 to transform the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. However, Merck’s starting material was deoxycholic acid from bovine bile. Julian’s synthetic work beginning with sigmasterol.

I could go on. So I strongly suggest that readers consult the ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark dedication and, please, watch The Forgotten Genius. You should buy the DVD, as I did for teaching in my pharmacology classes, but you can watch it in segments at the PBS NOVA page.

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.

This squirrel loves to horse around. Credit: Jim Zielinski/ZielinskiPhotography.com

This squirrel loves to horse around.
Credit: Jim Zielinski/ZielinskiPhotography.com

When is a squirrel not a squirrel? When it’s eating out of a squirrel feeder shaped like a horse, of course. [Washington Post]

Researchers get prairie voles soused and then study their “pairing behavior.” Anyone who’s been to a bar on a Saturday night knows how this study ends. [National Geographic]

“Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots – everybody!” Turns out, the teens who most enjoy listening to songs with alcohol-soaked lyrics are also most likely to drink and binge on alcohol. No word on whether training kids to emulate song lyrics can be traced back to Baby Mozart CDs. [NPR]

After being asked by a local radio station to name the ingredients in the chicken patty sandwich it serves students, Chicago Public Schools has responded by saying the sandwich consists of a “chicken patty” and “bun.” The evasive response has resulted in irate parents wanting to serve the school system plenty of knuckle sandwiches. [WBEZ]

Although Newscripts condones peeing in the ocean, researchers find that peeing in a swimming pool creates toxic byproducts. [Washington Post]

Oft overlooked elements get a little attention. Were you feeling taken for granted, Europium? [Mother Nature Network]

Have you checked out the Compound Interest blog? It’s pretty nifty. [Daily Mail]

Crank up that chemistry set. A $5 chemistry lab is in the making, inspired by wind-up music boxes. [C&EN]

According to researchers at the University of Louisville, three-dimensional printing may one day be used to construct a heart. The news is yet another example of the medical community putting the needs of tin woodmen ahead of the needs of scarecrows and cowardly lions. [San Francisco Chronicle]

People v Patrick Harran: Opposition to the appellate court petition

New arguments were filed this week in a California appellate court regarding the case against University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick Harran. Harran faces trial on four felony violations of the state labor code. The charges stem from the 2009 death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji from injuries sustained in a fire in Harran’s lab.

One judge ruled nearly a year ago after a preliminary hearing that there was enough evidence to send Harran to trial. Last August, another judge ruled against defense motions to dismiss the case. Then, last October, Harran’s attorneys filed a “Petition for writ of mandate, prohibition, or other appropriate relief” with the California Court of Appeal.

To quote from a Safety Zone post on the petition:

The petition covers similar territory as the demurrer motion from last August: The defense argues that UC was the employer and Harran merely a supervisor. California Labor Code section 6425(a) makes it a crime for “Any employer and any employee having direction, management, control, or custody of any employment, place of employment, or of any other employee” to willfully violate an occupational safety or health standard in such a way that causes death or permanent or prolonged impairment of the body of an employee. Nevertheless, Harran’s attorneys write, the specific occupational safety and health regulations Harran is charged with violating reference either employer or no one at all (Title 8, sections 5191(f)(4), 3203(a)(6), 3383(a), and 3383(b)). Other regulations do call out supervisors. From the petition:

In the regulatory scheme, Cal/OSHA thus specifically identifies supervisors as the party legally responsible for certain acts when it deems necessary. In other circumstances, it simply prescribes duties of employers, and leaves to the employer how to divide responsibility for internal implementation of the safety standards. There is no principled justification to disregard the expressed policy preferences of the administrative body charged with promoting workplace safety in this state.

The two arguments filed this week were from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, in opposition to the petition. One, the “Opposition to request for judicial notice,” argues that the appellate court should not consider exhibits submitted by Harran’s team to support the petition. “The court may not consider outside facts on a demurrer, and may only consider questions of law relevant to the facial sufficiency of the pleadings,” the opposition document says.

The other argument filed this week is the “Opposition to petition for peremptory writ of mandate or prohibition.” This document first argues that Harran’s petition involves contested issues of fact that are properly addressed in a trial. It then goes on to argue that Harran was Sangji’s employer:

Harran stated to investigator Baudendistel that although Sangji’s payment was administered through the UCLA payroll department, the funds were from his research funds and “other funds that he controlled.” (Exh. 3, p. 91.) Sangji came to work for UCLA in response to an ad Harran placed. (Ibid.) Harran was responsible for the recruitment and hiring for his lab, and he conducted the job interviews. (Ibid.) According to Harran, it was he, not the UC, who was responsible for Sangji’s safety training because of her “classification by the University.” (Id. at p. 92.) Since Harran was in charge of the lab (id. at p. 90), presumably he controlled her day-to-day activities. The totality of these conditions seems to create a strong suspicion that Sangji was “any natural person in service” of Harran. (§ 3300, subd. (c); § 6304.) …

Under [the sponsored project] arrangement, Harran appears to administer an independent project with outside funding with support from the UC. Under this arrangement, he therefore shares employment responsibilities with the UC.

And regardless, he is liable as either an employer or supervisor:

In assigning criminal liability to supervisors, the Labor Code recognizes the basic truth that all companies must act through their employees. …

These examples show that the regulations do not establish a rigid scheme of employer duties, with the occasional imposition of a supervisory position. Rather, they should be given a common-sense reading in line with the reality of how firms operate. The more appropriate interpretation is that the regulations describe safety standards to be implemented by firms in a practical manner depending on their size and structure. As discussed ante, the Labor Code then becomes the relevant source of criminal or civil liability. It does not appear that the broad liability seemingly imposed by section 6425 is artificially limited by the regulations to only those instances where they impose specific duties on a “supervisor.” The more reasonable approach is to apply the plain meaning of section 6425 and impose criminal penalties on supervisory employees who have actually been given safety responsibilities by their employer, and who willfully violate those duties.

Replies to the opposition arguments are due to the court on April 30. Harran’s next status check with the trial court is on June 5, although the trial cannot proceed until the appellate court rules.

The Toronto Star recently published a long story on the case: A young lab worker, a professor and a deadly accident

Chemical safety tidbits and papers, from OPRD

A tweet from Chemjobber that Organic Process Research & Development editor Trevor Laird is retiring at the end of the year made me realize that I forgot to highlight OPRD’s annual “Safety of Chemical Processes” section at the end of last year. Making up for the omission:

Laird’s editorial: “There is a long way to go to educate and train to a high standard all chemists working in laboratories and chemical plants and to minimize the number of these incidents, which lead to damage to buildings and loss of profits, as well as loss of life. Companies always measure the cost of doing something (e.g., training) but never measure the cost of not doing something; there is a cost of not training staff, however, just as there is a cost associated with not complying with regulations (e.g., FDA regulations).”

Safety Notables: Information from the Literature, including notes about Togni’s reagent, dimethylsulfoxide, hydroxylamine, peroxides, dimethyldioxirane, nitro-explosives, and safer reagents for a number of reactions

Hydrazine and Aqueous Hydrazine Solutions: Evaluating Safety in Chemical Processes, from Lilly Research Laboratories

Safer Preparation of m-CPBA/DMF Solution in Pilot Plant, from Suzhou Novartis Pharma Technology

Process Safety Evaluation To Identify the Inherent Hazards of a Highly Exothermic Ritter Reaction Using Adiabatic and Isothermal Calorimeters, from Mylan Laboratories

Safe Scale-Up of a Hydrazine Condensation by the Addition of a Base, from AbbVie

Merck’s Reaction Review Policy: An Exercise in Process Safety, from Merck