Overheated nitrocellulose ignited to set off Tianjin explosion
Feb09

Overheated nitrocellulose ignited to set off Tianjin explosion

Chinese officials released on Feb. 5 a report into a 2015 explosion at a hazardous materials warehouse in Tianjin that killed 165 people. C&EN’s Jean-François Tremblay reports: The immediate cause of the accident was the spontaneous ignition of overly dry nitrocellulose stored in a container that overheated, according to the report, issued on Feb. 5. Wetting agents inside the container had evaporated in the summer heat, investigators found. Flames from that initial fire reached nearby ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which exploded. … Investigators found that Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics, the operator of the warehouse, illegally stored hazardous materials and that its “safety management procedures were inept.” It also assigned varying degrees of blame to 74 government officials from agencies at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Some officials, investigators found, were guilty of “taking bribes and abusing power.” To prevent a similar catastrophe, investigators issued a list of recommendations, including the creation of a national system for monitoring hazardous chemicals storage. They also recommended that firefighters be better equipped. First responders accounted for 110 of the...

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CSB approves final report on West Fertilizer explosion
Feb02

CSB approves final report on West Fertilizer explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) on Jan. 28 approved its final report on the 2013 ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, that killed fifteen people and injured hundreds of others. CSB found that key factors that led to the severity of the accident were: Poor hazard awareness Proximity of the facility to nearby homes and businesses Inadequate emergency planning Limited regulatory oversight Here’s CSB’s video about the incident: CSB issued a total of 19 recommendations relating to the explosion, to the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, International Code Council (responsible for the International Fire Code), Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas Commission on Fire Protection, State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Services, Texas Department of Insurance, West Volunteer Fire Department, and El Dorado Chemical...

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Comparing safety culture in industry to academia
Jan21

Comparing safety culture in industry to academia

Chemjobber had a guest post last week by Alex Goldberg, who started working as a pharmaceutical process chemist six months ago. He says, in part: And we have regular meetings about safety: we discuss near-misses and incidents and accidents (and we learn about the differences between them in safety training) that occurred in the previous month. And absolutely everyone wears his or her labcoat and safety glasses. Reflecting back on my academic training, I think about what universities can do to make safety an ongoing conversation, not just an onboarding exercise or an annual seminar. If we take long-hours and limited resources as a given in academic Chemistry departments — a topic which merits another discussion entirely — what can be done to build a culture of safety around those constraints? What does your lab and department do to accomplish this goal? Examples,...

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Trimethylaluminum explosion at Dow facility in Massachusetts
Jan08

Trimethylaluminum explosion at Dow facility in Massachusetts

On Thursday, five people were injured when a reaction between trimethylaluminum and water caused an explosion in a lab at Dow Chemical’s electronic materials facility in North Andover, Mass., Massachusetts Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said at a press briefing. Four of the injured were taken to a local hospital, then three of them were transferred to Boston hospitals. The injuries were burns and shrapnel wounds, Coan said. The explosion occurred around 2:20 pm. Emergency responders spent the rest of the day securing the scene and ensuring it would be safe for investigators. There was significant damage to the lab where the explosion occurred–Coan said that some windows were blown out and that the HVAC system, hoods, ceiling panels, and lighting were damaged. Local news reports say that people living adjacent to the plant felt the explosion. The building, however is structurally sound and should be reoccupied once investigators are finished, Coan said. A trimethylindium explosion at the same site in 2013 resulted in the death of production operator Carlos A. Amaral, 51. Dow concluded that in that incident: • An employee sustained injuries as a result of the overpressure of a small stainless steel manufacturing vessel during an operation associated with a Trimethylindium (TMI) manufacturing batch. • An undesired and unexpected reactive chemical event occurred within the vessel as the employee was transporting the vessel from the glove box to the next manufacturing unit for further processing. • The overpressure resulted in a release of reacted and unreacted materials and a fire. The most highly probable cause of the unplanned event was the ingress of cleaning liquid from the cavity space of the ball valve into the crude TMI. Due to the nature of the event, it is impossible to completely validate this conclusion. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration initially fined Dow $28,000, then settled for $17,500. The citations included one serious one for failing “to ensure reactor pots were adequately designed and inspected to prevent or minimize chemical explosions.” Fire marshal Coan said that yesterday’s incident was “much different” from the 2013 one, although I was watching the press briefings online and couldn’t ask specifically what he thinks the difference was other than trimethylindium versus trimethylaluminum. Hopefully more information will come out once investigators can get into the lab and finish interviewing the people involved. There were two press briefings yesterday with the fire marshal, one at 6 pm and the other at 10 pm Eastern. A Boston Globe reporter tweeted these videos from that the 10 pm briefing. State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan pic.twitter.com/WbtCdsr140 — Astead Wesley (@AsteadWH) January 8, 2016 Work to be...

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Chemical Safety Board releases information about DuPont fatal methyl mercaptan leak
Oct15

Chemical Safety Board releases information about DuPont fatal methyl mercaptan leak

At the end of last month (when I was consumed by finishing a cover story on another topic), the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released its interim recommendations to DuPont regarding the company’s release of 24,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan last year. The incident killed four employees at DuPont’s La Porte, Tex., facility. CSB also released an animation of the incident: In June, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration classified DuPont as a “severe violator” for “demonstrated indifference towards creating a safe and healthy workplace by committing willful or repeated violations, and/or failing to abate known hazards,” OSHA...

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Learning from oil spill disasters
Jul22

Learning from oil spill disasters

In last week’s issue of C&EN, I had  a story that looked  back at the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills, with an eye toward lessons learned for addressing future spills. I focused on the environmental clean-up, not on the process safety problems that led to the incidents, but there was one talk from the University of New Hampshire Oil Spill Response Forum held last fall that I wanted to flag here. The speaker was Charlie Williams, who retired from Shell as chief scientist for well engineering and production and now leads the Center for Offshore Safety. Consider these quotes, broadening “process” away from industry to include, say, the process of bench synthesis: It became apparent that in major incidents, one of the key elements was how you managed your process. Your process of how you operate, how you execute projects, what you do every day, how you make these decisions for safety every day is a key barrier to preventing a major incident. … When the presidential commission talked about improving safety culture in the industry, I think one of the main things they were talking about was this balance between protecting individuals with the the better air bags and the better seat belts, and then putting the right amount of focus on how you also manage your processes and the way you execute your work to make sure that you’re doing the most you can to prevent these major incidents. Major incidents in academia can, of course, include lost fingers, lost eyesight, and even death. Williams also mentioned management of change, which is an important consideration in a research environment when experiments may be changing frequently. Here’s Williams’s talk, set to start at the section in question...

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