What Might Be Tagged At Dow’s Yardsale?
Mar24

What Might Be Tagged At Dow’s Yardsale?

As you have may have heard, Dow Chemical plans to sell more businesses. Back in December, the company said it would get rid of its epoxy resins and chlorine-related business, which would make the bulk of $3.0 to $4.0 billion worth of divestitures. Mind you, these numbers here are a little funky. They refer to the pre-tax proceeds to Dow from transactions that aren’t necessarily even being negotiated yet. However, the company tends to get strong valuations when it sells businesses, so I would expect that the proceeds from deals would be within the range and even towards the top of it. Last week, at an investor event in Saudi Arabia, the company announced it would put an additional $1.5 to $2.0 billion in businesses up for sale. CEO Andrew N. Liveris wouldn’t say what the businesses are, but he would certainly characterize them. They would be nice businesses, likely coming out of its Performance and Functional Materials units, and perhaps reasonably profitable. But they would be more meaningful to potential buyers than they currently are to Dow. They would be, Liveris promised,  “Lots of small, little businesses that you never even track, that you never follow, and that you never even knew we had.” He was addressing analysts, thus casting a wide net. They are only acquainted with the solid form of ethylene known as polyethylene and Dow AgroSciences. The Chemical Notebook takes Liveris’ remarks as a challenge. What are the most obscure Dow businesses? Two that jumped out at me are are Dow Plastics Plastics Additives And Dow Oil & Gas. Dow put the plastics additives unit up for sale last year and then withdrew it from the market. Oil and Gas is tiny, about $270 million in annual sales. It is a market facing unit that sells chemicals for oil and gas exploration and extraction. This is a very marketable business, with companies such as Solvay and Ecolab plunging further in this area. My only reservation about Dow selling this business is that the chemistry on offer in oil and gas overlaps with other Dow businesses. Additionally, I combed through Dow’s Product Safety Assessment Finder, which by the way, is a great source of information for many chemicals. I asked question “what are the real oddball businesses?” Here are few (Don’t take this as a list of possible sales, though. Some, as you will see, are likely keepers.): Silicones and Feel Modifiers: These sound dirty. They’re not. They are used in leather finishing. They also sound like something Dow Corning would sell. With a tradename like ROSILK, I’ll guess these came from Rohm and Haas. ADSORBIA...

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Shale And The Safety Challenge Ahead
Jun21

Shale And The Safety Challenge Ahead

Incidents at chemical plants in Louisiana one week ago left three people dead. Two were killed in an explosion and fire at a Williams Cos. ethylene cracker in Geismar. One died when a nitrogen manifold ruptured at a CF Industries complex in Donaldsonville. A write up by Jeff Johnson and me appears here. The genesis of the story is an interesting one. Last Monday, I called Jeff about blasts. I made the observation that both plants were undergoing work. The Williams plant is being expanded by 50% this year to take greater advantage of shale gas. An ammonia unit at the CF facilities was undergoing a scheduled turnaround. The process of shutting down, working on, and restarting units is a major danger for chemical operators in a similar way that takeoff and landing are the most treacherous moments of flight. Jeff is very aware of this. He owns the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board beat. He also mentioned to me that the CSB is overtaxed. Its staff of 40 has 15 investigations to cover right now. It hasn’t launched an investigation into CF yet for want of manpower. Shale will lead to a flood of construction the likes of which the U.S. chemical industry has never seen. According to the American Chemistry Council, the amount of capital spending for already announced products is $71.7 billion, and climbing. There will be a big chunk of the chemical industry in the danger zone for accidents. Back in March, I attended a talk at the IHS World Petrochemical Conference in Houston by Richard Meserole, vice president of energy and chemicals construction at the engineering firm Fluor. He had staggering numbers. In just a 50 mile radius from Houston, 45 projects worth $100 million or more will require 20,000 new craft workers. All these skilled laborers such as welders, iron workers, and pipefitters couldn’t even fit into the Toyota Center for a Rockets game. Many of these workers will come from outside the region. Many will be recently trained. And though every construction site—even for a back yard deck—present hazards, are all these workers prepared for the particular nuances of an environment with volatile and highly reactive chemicals? Let us hope that the chemical industry and those regulating it are up to the challenge....

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Now on the Sheri Sangji Case: The L.A. District Attorney's Office
Jan13

Now on the Sheri Sangji Case: The L.A. District Attorney's Office

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) last week sent its findings in the investigation of the death of University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry researcher Sheri Sangji to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The DA’s office will now review the case and decide whether to file charges against the university or any of its employees. Sangji, a research assistant in the lab of chemistry professor Patrick Harran, died a year ago after being badly burned in a laboratory fire. Cal/OSHA investigated the incident and subsequently fined UCLA $31,875 for laboratory safety violations related to Sangji’s death. As is standard practice in the case of a workplace death, Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations reviewed the case to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of criminal violations of the California Labor Code to warrant referring the case to the DA’s office. Now, “the prosecutor must evaluate the evidence to determine if a crime has been committed and, if so, if the evidence is sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt to show that the suspect is guilty of the crime,” says LA County DA’s office spokesperson Sandi Gibbons. “Reviews can take weeks or months, depending on the amount of evidence and if follow-up investigation is needed.” Cal/OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza told C&EN that the agency had referred Sangji’s case to the DA’s office. Gibbons confirmed that the DA’s office received the evidence from Cal/OSHA and is reviewing it. UCLA, however, “has been assured by Cal/OSHA’s lead investigator, as recently as today, that the investigation is ongoing and that no decision has been made,” says UCLA spokesperson Phil Hampton. “UCLA strongly disagrees with any pursuit of criminal charges. The campus believes that Ms. Sangji’s death resulted from a tragic accident involving no willful negligence and was unrelated to the record-keeping, inspections and follow-ups that have been the focus of Cal/OSHA and accounts in the news media.” Sangji’s sister, Naveen Sangji, has previously said that her family would like the district attorney’s office to get involved, because they felt that the Cal/OSHA and university investigations were not thorough enough. “We want to know who was responsible and who failed in their duties to make sure Sheri was safe at work,” Naveen said. According to Cal/OSHA policies & procedures, the laws generally considered in cases such as this are Labor Code Sections 6423 and 6425. The sections outline penalties for violations of occupational safety & health standards that include prison time and/or hefty...

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Friday Safety Bytes
Oct30

Friday Safety Bytes

I spent some time this morning updating my list of lab safety incidents so far this year. Although the list is undoubtedly not comprehensive, it would appear that September and October were not good months for lab safety. I’d be curious to know if there’s always a spike in the fall as new students arrive on campuses. The ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety has added presentations from the NorthEast Regional Meetings, held in Hartford, Conn., this month to its technical archives. Included are presentations on: Chemical Safety Levels as part of risk assessment by Ralph Stuart of the University of Vermont, Transferring Air-Sensitive Reagents by Mark Potyen of Sigma Aldrich, When the Chemistry Department and EHS Journey Down the Same Road Together by N. Gail Hall of Boston College, and Update on Prudent Practices in the Laboratory by Peter Reinhardt of Yale University. DCHAS also has presentations up from the ACS National Meeting in August. Last but not least, a terrific video from the University of California, Berkeley, team the Sounds of Science, this time  on lab safety. One complaint is that the song lyrics say “Goggles are a must,” but the singer dons glasses. Safety experts say go for the...

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Video Tutorial for Handling Reactive Reagents
Oct15

Video Tutorial for Handling Reactive Reagents

Haim Weizman, a chemistry professor at the University of California, San Diego, has put together three instructional videos that demonstrate techniques for working with pyrophoric or other air-reactive materials, including both liquids and metals. Head on over to his site and take a look. Feel free to discuss in the comments if you disagree with the practices shown in the...

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Learning From UCLA
Oct05

Learning From UCLA

The six columns of letters in this week’s print edition of C&EN and several more columns in this week’s edition of C&EN Online all pertain to the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, a 23-year-old research assistant in a chemistry laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, and C&EN’s coverage of the accident that led to her death. Associate Editor Jyllian Kemsley has written extensively about the accident, culminating in a major investigative article that appeared in the Aug. 3 issue (page 29). To recap, on Dec. 29, 2008, Sangji was scaling up a reaction she had carried out at least once before to produce 4-hydroxy-4-vinyldecane from either 4-undecanone or 4-decanone. The first step of the reaction was to generate vinyllithium by reacting vinylbromide with tert-butyllithium, a pyrophoric chemical. The experiment went terribly wrong when the tert-butyllithium spilled and ignited a spilled flask of hexane. Sangji suffered extensive burns on her upper body. She died on Jan. 16. The letters C&EN has received on the accident focus on several themes. A common one is that the laboratory shower should have been used to extinguish the fire that had engulfed Sangji. James W. Lewis writes that Kemsley’s article “tells me that many chemists need to better understand the importance of laboratory safety showers. Immediate use of a safety shower is the best option in a clothes-on-fire situation.” Stephen T. Ross writes: “The safety shower that could have lessened her injuries was used neither by Sangji nor by either of the two fellow-chemists who responded to her cries. Why? Possibly it was because chemists are never trained to use the shower because it produces a huge volume of water of uncertain quality without a drain and is, thus, too messy to demonstrate.” Ross makes another point, observing that the behavior of “instantly pyrophoric compounds can’t be appreciated until it is seen.” Potential users should be shown what happens when a small volume is exposed to air and ignites, he writes. “It is important to prepare the mind.” Other letter writers wondered why Sangji was scaling up the reaction at all. James T. Palmer writes: “Nowhere, however, did I see anyone ask why an extremely dangerous reagent was used to generate an organometallic compound … that can be purchased. I have supervised synthetic chemists for more than 20 years. … Whatever their level, there is one common rule: Buy your bonds rather than make them whenever possible.” Peter Reinhardt points to stringent regulations governing the use of radionuclides in academic labs, with the requirement that before an experiment can be carried out, a project-specific plan must be submitted to the institutional Radiation...

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