Friday chemical safety round-up

Water pipes in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's photovoltaic research lab, which I visited last week. The white pipe is "tempered" water kept at a temperature to make eye wash stations more welcoming to users. Credit: Jyllian Kemsley/C&EN

Chemical health & safety news from the past two weeks:

  • Houshold chemistry by ChemBark: How not to clean a rusty trunk
  • Texas Tech University’s Alice Young once told me that one of the challenges in building a safety culture is that “some areas of laboratory science have a sort of ‘outlaw’ culture in which it’s not acceptable to have a problem or ask for help.” University of Oklahoma researchers have now shown that “there is a higher rate of accidental deaths among whites (but not nonwhites) in the American South and West — regions where a ‘culture of honor’ makes backing down from a challenge problematic for many males.”
  • Safety has not been asked to the prom, says the NIOSH science blog. “Green is sexy. It’s in vogue. It gets splashed on billboards and endorsed by celebrities. Safety on the other hand? Not so much.” And yet “Because of the close relationship between safe practices and environmental stewardship—their overlap in promotion and intervention—there’s no reason that safety should be left to wallflower.”
  • Remember the Rohm & Haas chemist, Carol Anne Bond, who tried to poison her husband’s lover with 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine and potassium dichromate? The Supreme Court says she can contest a federal charge of possession and use of chemical weapons. (I’m confused why Bond seemingly pled guilty to the charge in the first place.)
  • After four deaths and four injured workers so far this year–and with one of the injured stilll in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s burn unit–Hoeganaes’ Tennesse plant restarted metal powder production, with approval from the Tennessee Occupational Health and Safety Administration (TOSHA). CSB is not impressed:

    [CSB Managing Director Daniel] Horowitz said Hoeganaes officials expressed doubt to the Chemical Safety Board about whether the iron powder manufactured at the plant falls under national fire code standards for combustible metal dust. Though iron powder is not specifically addressed in the recommendations, Horowitz said samples from the plant showed in tests that the dust from Hoeganaes is covered by the standards based on its explosive properties.

    “Really, with all these accidents and four deaths, it’s not the right time, from our standpoint, to debate what level of protection is needed,” Horowitz said. “The company should be seeking the maximum level of protection that the code recommends.”

    Oh, and TOSHA gave the restart approval having cited and fined Hoeganaes $42,000 for violations relating to the January and March incidents–penalties that Hoeganaes is contesting.

  • Meanwhile, U.S. OSHA cited AL Solutions, a West Virginia titanium and zirconium recycler, for 18 worker safety violations in a Dec. 9, 2010, explosion that killed three workers. One citation, involving the use of an unsafe water sprinkler system with flammable materials, was labeled as willful, “where the evidence shows either an intentional violation of the [OSH] Act or plain indifference to its requirements.” OSHA fined the company $154,000. CSB is investigating this, too.
  • Ciba-Geigy and New Jersey homeowners reached a $20 million settlement over toxic waste at an industrial dye and resin site. BASF purchased Ciba in 2009.

    Removal of drummed waste from an unlined landfill on the Ciba site began in 2003, and excavation of polluted soil began in 2004. A contractor removed 47,055 drums, about 12,000 more than the EPA believed was in the pit.

    The treatment of 342,877 cubic yards of contaminated soil — the EPA’s original estimate was 160,000 cubic yards — was completed in August 2010. In October, company officials said the $300 million cleanup was complete. …

    Proposals in the past to develop the site for its economic potential have been contingent on removing [an additional] 40,000 to 50,000 drums full of chemical waste that are stored three stories high, over an area about the size of a football field, called “Cell 1,” explained [Toms River] Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher.

  • EPA revealed the names of 150 chemicals examined in health and safety studies. The chemicals are “used in dispersants and consumer products including air fresheners, non-stick and stain resistant materials, and fire resistant materials. Others are nonylphenol compounds, which are used in detergents, and perfluorinated substances.” Separately, EPA also made additional toxicity data available through its Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource.
  • On the nanotechnology front, 2020 Science posts about a hat trick of regulations from the White House, EPA, and FDA.
  • OSHA seeks applications for $4.7 million in Susan Harwood safety and health training grants: capacity building pilot; capacity building developmental; targeted topic training; and training and educational materials development (definitions at link).
  • Anyone planning on lab clean-outs this summer? The University of Alberta, Canada, dentistry-pharmacy building was evacuated when a renovation turned up ammonia silver nitrate (is the risk here formation of silver nitride?)
  • Or a garage sale? A box containing corroding cans of calcium cyanide, arsenic, malathion, and other friendly neighborhood chemicals was found at a house being prepared for an estate auction.
  • And not one but TWO scouting first aid kids turned up containing picric acid: One at the national landmark Tudor Place in Washington, D.C. (a Girl Scout kit) and the other at the Pioneers Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo. (a Boy Scout kit). Apparently picric acid was used in the early 20th century as an antiseptic and burn treatment (did my grandfather have it in his pharmacy?).

Fires and explosions:

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

Not covered: meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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1 Comment

  1. Tollens’ reagent might have similar problems to the smmonia silver nitrate found in Alberta. The following reference cites an explosion caused by leftover Tollens’ reagent –