10 years ago, Sheri Sangji died following a lab fire
Jan16

10 years ago, Sheri Sangji died following a lab fire

Today is the 10th anniversary of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji’s death from injuries sustained in a laboratory fire at the University of California, Los Angeles. From C&EN: Her death pushed some chemists to try to improve academic lab safety culture to prevent similar accidents at their own institutions and beyond. C&EN asked scientists from all corners of the chemistry community to describe their efforts. Read on for their strategies, including incorporating safety into chemistry education, improving training, and developing resources to help people work in a safer manner. Yet large-scale, systemic change remains elusive, as demonstrated by grievous incidents in the decade since Sangji’s death. Postdoctoral researcher Meng Xiangjian died in a hydrogen explosion at Tsinghua University in 2015. Graduate student Preston Brown lost three fingers and damaged his eyes in a nickel hydrazine perchlorate explosion at Texas Tech University in 2010. And postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward lost one of her arms in a hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture explosion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2016. Adding to that list, in early December one researcher was killed and three others were injured in what seems to have been an explosion of a hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture at the Indian Institute of Science’s Laboratory for Hypersonic and Shock Wave Research. A few weeks later, three students died in an explosion involving sewage treatment experiments at Beijing Jiaotong University, according to local news reports. And those are just the incidents that C&EN knows about that involved deaths or significant permanent injuries. Many others had milder consequences, though they could’ve easily been worse. To learn more about how to improve laboratory safety culture, particularly in academic research labs, read C&EN’s...

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Gas cylinder explosion in India’s premier government lab kills 1 person, wounds 3 more
Dec31

Gas cylinder explosion in India’s premier government lab kills 1 person, wounds 3 more

Contributed by K. V. Venkatasubramanian, special to C&EN. A gas cylinder blast in a laboratory at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) on Dec. 5 killed one researcher and left three others grievously wounded. The researchers were working in the Laboratory for Hypersonic and Shock Wave Research, which was established in the 1970s to study shock waves. Vikram Jayaram, head of IISc’s internal investigation team, told C&EN on Dec. 31 that the explosion involved cylinders containing hydrogen-oxygen mixtures that are used to generate controlled shock waves in a protected, closed container to study granite fragmentation for purposes such as mining and oil recovery. “At this stage of the inquiry, all indications are that adequate safety precautions were employed,” Jayaram said. Manoj Kumar, 32, died instantly. Naresh Kumar, Atulya Uday Kumar, and Karthik Shenoy were hospitalized. All were project engineers employed by start-up Super-Wave Technology, an IISc initiative managed by aerospace engineering professors K. P. J. Reddy and G. Jagadeesh. The company researches shock waves and their applications. Police booked the two professors on Dec. 6 on charges of causing death due to negligence and for causing grievous injuries by acts endangering the lives and personal safety of others. UPDATE: This story was revised on Dec. 31, 2018, to incorporate new information from Vikram...

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To reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials, follow workplace design recommendations
May10

To reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials, follow workplace design recommendations

Earlier this year, the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health released new nanotechnology design recommendations to help reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials. “Workers in industries that use or make these uniquely engineered nanomaterials may inhale nanoparticles on a daily basis, posing a potential respiratory hazard,” NIOSH says in a press release. “Each workplace design solutions document provides key tips on the design, use, and maintenance of exposure controls for nanomaterial production, post processing, and use.” The documents prepared by NIOSH cover: handling and weighing of nanomaterials when scooping, pouring and dumping; harvesting nanomaterials and cleaning out reactors after materials are produced; processing of nanomaterials after production; working with nanomaterials of different forms, including dry powders or liquids. See more NIOSH resources on safe production and use of nanomaterials...

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Aging equipment, vulnerability, near misses, runaway reactions, and natural disasters in process safety newsletters
May09

Aging equipment, vulnerability, near misses, runaway reactions, and natural disasters in process safety newsletters

From AIChE’s “Process Safety Beacon” newsletters so far this year: Aging facilities and infrastructure – “Aging does not necessarily relate to how old a facility or piece of equipment might be. It is really about how well it has been operated and maintained.” Maintain a sense of vulnerability – Understand the hazards of your process and materials. Know what the worst-case incident is, and what safety systems and procedures are in place to prevent it. … Never think ‘it can’t happen here’ or ‘it can’t happen to me.’ It can!” Reporting and investigating near misses – “Following a major process safety incident, investigators often find that there were previous warnings and near misses. If these had been reported, investigated, and investigation findings implemented, the major incident could have been prevented.” Runaway reactions caused by contamination – “When you check safety information (safety data sheets, operating procedures, etc.) for materials in your plant, pay attention to possible hazardous reactions such as decomposition and polymerization as a result of contamination. Be aware of any specific contaminants of concern which are present in your plant.” Could your plant be impacted by a natural disaster? – “If you identify something which you think is important, and which is not covered by the existing plans, bring your concerns to the attention of your supervisors so the plans can be...

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Azidophenylalanine poses explosion risk
May07

Azidophenylalanine poses explosion risk

From C&EN a few weeks ago: Azidophenylalanine poses explosion risk, written by Carmen Drahl The unnatural amino acid 4-azido-l-phenylalanine (shown, left) carries an explosion risk, a new study shows (J. Org. Chem. 2018, DOI: 10.1021/acs.joc.8b00270). The azide group isn’t found in biology, which makes it handy for attaching probes to biomolecules. The amino acid is expensive, however, so postdoctoral researcher Mark B. Richardson, professor Gregory A. Weiss, and colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, developed a cost-effective synthesis. “We found this explosion risk entirely by accident,” Richardson says. Organic chemists are wary of azides, so the team used differential scanning calorimetry to watch the decomposition profile of all the intermediates in the copper-catalyzed reaction they used to build the molecule. The intermediates, some of which they worried would be problematic, turned out to be safe. But azidophenylalanine, included in the study for completeness’s sake, behaved like an explosive compound. To minimize risks, labs should avoid storing crystalline samples of azidophenylalanine for extended periods, Richardson says. Protecting the amine removes the explosion risk and is a good prestorage strategy. Biochemistry labs should consider keeping all stocks of azidophenylalanine in dilute aqueous solution, he adds. Sometimes people become complacent about risky functional groups, he says. “The fact that we didn’t see this coming speaks...

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