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Category → Safety resources

A safety warning on Togni’s reagents

From Novasep in Germany and Organic Process Research and Development comes word that Togni’s reagent II, used for trifluoromethylations, is explosive. Also highly hazardous is an intermediate in the reagent’s synthesis and probably Togni’s reagent I.

Togni’s reagent II, in particular, shows some properties comparable to trinitrotoluene and gunpowder. Caution the paper’s authors:

  • Work with the compounds behind a safety shield and use small amounts
  • Avoid open flames and sparking
  • Don’t grind the materials with “brute force” (I think I’d probably err on the side of not grinding at all)
  • Use “soft and polished tools” for manipulations
  • Avoid caking and disperse lumps early
  • Impurities may influence the thermal and mechanical sensitivity of the material

The Sigma-Aldrich material safety data sheet for Togni’s reagent II, 1-(trifluoromethyl-1,2-benziodoxol-3(1H)-one, mixed with diatomaceous earth classifies the product only as an irritant and toxic. Togni’s reagent I, 3,3-dimethyl-1-trifluoromethyl-1,2-benziodoxole, is flagged as an irritant.

Hat tip to Chemjobber for the heads up, In the Pipeline also has discussion
Org. Process Res. Dev., DOI: 10.1021/op400035b

Engineering safer syringes

Perfektum syringe clip

Perfektum syringe clip

Last fall, C&EN ran a couple of letters that focused on the role of the syringe in the #SheriSangji case. Both called for a way to prevent a syringe plunger from coming out of the barrel. I’ve seen mention of such devices in comments around the web in the last few years, so I thought I’d take a look at what I could find:

1. The Hamilton Chaney adapter, “a device that assures repetitive and identical syringe plunger location.” The maximum volume syringe appears to be about 500 microliters, and it’s not clear how much force these adapters would resist.

2. Perfektum syringes go up to 100 mL and have a little metal clip on the end that puts pressure on the barrel. A kind source had one in their lab and took the photos to the right for me. The clips look like they wouldn’t resist much force.

Perfektum syringe clip on syringe

Perfektum syringe clip on syringe

3. Valco VICI precision syringes, which have a “positive rear flange plunger stop – prevents plunger from blowing out of barrel at elevated pressure.” They’re designed for chromatography. I have no idea how the plunger stop works. Readers?

4. As one of the letter-writers noted, Becton Dickinson has patents issued in the mid-90s for syringes with “a backstop device to prevent inadvertent withdrawal of a stopper or plunger rod” and “a plunger brake.” These look promising but as far as I can tell neither is available on any syringe available for purchase.

5. For the do-it-yourself crowd, an option is to drill a hole into a plastic syringe barrel and put in a screw far enough to serve as a brake on the plunger. (This procedure, of course, comes with its own set of risks.)

To sum, I really see no readily available answer for the problem. Am I missing something?

Improving graduate education in chemistry

Earlier this week, the American Chemical Society released a report on “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences.” ACS president and University of Wisconsin, Madison, chemistry professor Bassam Z. Shakhashiri commissioned the report, charging the commission with defining the purposes of graduate education in the chemical sciences and what steps should be taken to ensure that programs “address important societal issues as well as the needs and aspirations of graduate students.”

One of the five report conclusions was:

Academic chemical laboratories must adopt best safety practices. Such practices have led to a remarkably good record of safety in the chemical industry and should be leveraged.

The commission could easily have folded safety under another conclusion:  ”Current educational opportunities for graduate students…do not provide sufficient preparation for their careers after graduate school.” Clearly the commission members felt strongly that laboratory safety needed to be called out as a separate point.

The report notes that “students’ lack of familiarity with best practices in laboratory safety … represents a significant gap, regardless of the type of employment the student ultimately pursues,” whether students are looking at academic, industrial, or government positions. The report emphasizes that institutions should develop a culture of working safely rather than just following rules and regulations. In that respect, it jumps off from and references the ACS Safety Culture Task Force report Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions released earlier this year. And the report recommends that ACS develop a comprehensive safety curriculum based on best practices.

The report addresses the finances of safety, too:

The costs of safety practices for research should be built into the indirect costs charged by universities; they should be adequate to provide what is needed (including supplies, equipment, skilled personnel, training, and more). The direct-cost budgets of research grants do not seem to provide the appropriate mechanism for funding safety measures. The top down approach to handling the costs of safety is imperative to make certain there is uniform implementation of safety practices and hardware across all chemical laboratories of a university and to eliminate conflicts of interests among individual PIs making financial decisions regarding safety implementation in their own laboratories.

The costs of safety practices outside research laboratories, most notably in teaching facilities, are inevitably an institutional responsibility. Suitable standards should govern them, and appropriate mechanisms should fund them.

Based on the University of California’s definition of indirect costs–”those that are better calculated on an institutional basis rather than costed-out by project (e.g. research administration and accounting, purchasing, library, space, maintenance)”–safety definitely should be part of overhead. But who pays for what in academic departments can be the subject of intense debate, so it’s nice to see the ACS commission take a clear stand. The commission included two chancellors and one dean, along with many professors and some industry representatives.

Last but not least, a few quotes from the report on the importance of lab safety in graduate education:

Progress would afford better protection to students and other workers at all academic levels and would better prepare students to meet the natural expectations of their future colleagues and employers.


[T]oday’s companies demand safety performance from their employees that far exceeds what students are accustomed to in academic settings. There are many safety skills that are easily taught, such as doing hazard analyses, but the core issue is that students must be “grown” to value safety in a manner that is “bone deep” and can drive the highest level of performance, known as interdependent behavior. This culture of safety is often a surprise to newly hired students. It should not be.


[T]here is a demonstrated, strong correlation between occupational safety and operating performance of factories.30 A great many industrial organizations have found safety to be powerfully coupled in a general way to productivity. They are not committed just because a safety culture reduces their exposure to liability, but in much greater degree because a bone-deep safety culture protects their people and because workers who consistently think carefully about what they are doing perform better.

30Veltri, A.; Pagell, M.; Behm, M.; Das, A. A Data-Based Evaluation of the Relationship between Occupational Safety and Operating Performance. Jour. SH&E Res. 2007, 4, feature 2.

Dow teams up with universities on lab safety, how’d the UC “Creating Safety Cultures” webinar go?

Following up on a blog post last spring about a new lab safety partnership between Dow Chemical and the University of Minnesota, I’ve got a story in today’s issue of C&EN delving into the details of what Dow and its partner universities have done so far. Since the program started, Dow has expanded it to include Penn State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and each school is experimenting with different Dow-inspired ideas. Also, students, take note:

It’s not just the schools that have benefited from the interactions between Dow and the universities. Dow has changed one of its practices as well, Gupta says. Dow recruiters are now asking questions about safety in on-campus interviews, looking for people who have taken leadership positions or tried to emphasize safety in their own work.

Separately, did anyone attend the University of California’s webinar last week on “Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions.” How was it? Did you get anything useful out of it? I was enmeshed in training and our annual Advisory Board and staff meetings for much of last week, so I had to miss it.

Last but not least, I hope that everyone on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard stays safe and dry during Sandy.

The principles of “inherently safer” processes or experiments

The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released a video a couple of weeks ago on “Inherently Safer: The Future of Risk Reduction.” Although the video stems from CSB and National Research Council investigations into the BayerCropScience explosion in 2008, the principles of inherently safer processes can also be applied to research-scale experiments.

As outlined in the video, those principles are:

  • Minimize – reduce the amount of hazardous material in the process
  • Substitute – replace one material with another that is less hazardous
  • Moderate – use less hazardous process conditions, such as lower pressure or temperature
  • Simplify – design processes to be less complicated and therefore less prone to failure

“It’s not a specific technology or a set of tools and activities, but it’s really an approach to design and it’s a way of thinking,” said Dennis Hendershot, a consultant with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Center for Chemical Process Safety, at a 2009 CSB meeting. “The safety features are built right into the process, not added on. Hazards are eliminated or significantly reduced rather than controlled or managed.”

The video goes on to say that the goal of inherently safer process design is not only to prevent an accident but to reduce the consequences of an accident should one occur. A research lab experiment gone wrong, of course, is unlikely to affect the surrounding community in the way that a manufacturing incident might. But research lab incidents have cost millions of dollars and caused personal injuries in the form of lost eyes, hands, and fingers; burns and other unspecified injuries; and deaths of several researchers (for more, see the Laboratory Safety Institute’s Memorial Wall).

Lab safety survey still open

Happy Monday, all! The laboratory safety survey sponsored by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, BioRAFT, and Nature Publishing Group is still open for another week, until July 23. If you haven’t taken it, consider doing so at go.nature.com/7LDJlI.

Laboratory safety survey launched

A new survey has launched to study research laboratory safety. Jointly sponsored by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, BioRAFT, and Nature Publishing Group, ”The survey asks questions about types of materials used in research, training practices and policies, and attitudes and beliefs about existing safety practices and their impact on research,” according to a press release.

Research laboratory workers worldwide can take the survey at go.nature.com/7LDJlI. It will be open at least until July 5.

The UC Center for Laboratory Safety was established a year ago, with the stated goal of studying the effectiveness of lab safety programs. BioRAFT develops lab management software for safety and compliance. One of the company’s investors is Digital Science; Digital Science and Nature Publishing Group are both divisions of Macmillan Publishers.

The ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety did its own survey in 2010, although the results were difficult to interpret. None of the division, the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety, nor ACS Publications was asked to participate in the new effort, representatives of the organizations say.

Recognizing chemical hazards

I’ve got a story in this week’s issue of C&EN on OSHA’s new Hazard Communication standard (aka “HazCom”), the regulation that determines how chemical safety information is relayed to workers, and what bench chemists need to know about the chemical labels and safety data sheets coming their way.

“Memorize the pictograms” is really the take-home point. To that end, it’s important for people to recognize the distinctions between them. The two groups that I think require particular attention are the three health-related pictograms (human profile, exclamation mark, and skull and crossbones) and the flammables and oxidizers (flame and flame over circle). C&EN Design Director Rob Bryson worked with me to group those in print, but that was difficult to do in our web and mobile formats. We posted online a pdf of the print pages as an additional resource for our readers.

Also in this week’s issue is a comment from Robert H. Hill Jr., chair of the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety, discussing the Safety Culture Task Force report on “Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions.”

And now I will sign off for the rest of the week, as I head to Boston to immerse myself in the Investigative Reporters & Editors annual conference! The Friday news round-up will return on June 22.