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:
- An explosion and fire at a Louisiana Multi-Chem plant, which makes oilfield production chemicals, led to the evacuation of everything within a mile of the plant. The evacuation included personnel from a primate research center run by the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, but the animals were reportedly okay. No one at Multi-Chem was injured.
- A fire at Arch Chemical in Tennessee injured five when a “container of dry water sanitizer powder caught fire.” “Injuries varied from heat exhaustion, minor burns, and smoke inhalation.”
- Why firefighters NEED to know what you have on site: A case study from Oregon, courtesy of the Albany Fire Department and Industrial Welding & Supply:
The Albany Fire Department responded to Industrial Welding and Supply, 3415 Pacific Blvd SW at approximately 10:24 p.m. yesterday evening to an explosion and flames reported by a 911 call. Fire fighters arrived within approximately four minutes and observed several small explosions and fire involving approximately 360 square feet of piled storage of unknown materials located outside the building.
Fire Fighters initially applied water to extinguish the fire; however, these efforts and a passing rain shower intensified the burning. Fire fighters immediately ceased fire suppression efforts and backed away to a safe distance from the burning materials. A representative from Industrial Welding and Supply responded to the scene and identified the burning material as 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of Calcium Carbide in 200 pound drums.
Calcium Carbide is a grayish-black irregular lump solid material used to manufacture flammable acetylene gas. The acetylene gas, and a significant amount of heat, is created when the chemical comes in contact with moisture. Acetylene is a flammable gas that can become explosive when mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source. Each 200-pound drum of Calcium Carbide can produce enough flammable gas to fill seven to eight standard Acetylene cylinders.
The fact that Calcium Carbide chemically reacts with water and forms its own heat forced fire fighters to devise an alternate strategy and tactic to extinguish and cool the burning material. Fire fighters carefully applied dry chemical extinguishing powder to put out the fire while personnel from Industrial Welding and Supply separated out the drums of uninvolved chemical.
They finally got the fire under control at about 1:30 a.m. How much faster would that have happened had the fire crews known about the calcium carbide going in? Investigators believe that the cause of the fire was moisture getting into one or more drums from damage during shipping.
- A fire at an ink factory in Jaipur, India, killed a father and daughter, leading city authorities to crack down on “any kind of storage and selling of highly inflammable substances in residential colonies.”
- A truck carrying “flammable chemicals including potassium chlorate and carbon powder” exploded while it was being unloaded in China (impressive photos at link)
- A fire at Sinergy Elastomers in Georgia started “when hot waterproofing chemical spilled from a mixing barrel and ignited the propane tank of a nearby forklift.” No one was injured.
- A flash fire “in a self-contained room containing petroleum-based solvents used for cleaning” at an Intel microchip plant in Arizona injured seven. “A building fire suppression system consisting of foam and water sprinklers activated, helping to douse the blaze before crews extinguished it.”
Leaks, spills, and other exposures:
- A chlorine leak caused a site-wide evacuation of the Battelle campus in Columbus, Ohio. “A fixture on a 125-gallon chlorine tank came loose about 2:30 p.m. when two maintenance workers were removing it from a basement”; the chlorine was used to disinfect water for an air conditioning system.
- Also in Ohio, a worker at Levi Holdings fell into a sodium hydroxide tank and is hospitalized with burns from the chest down
- A BAE Systems employee in Kingsport, Tenn., suffered acid burns when he or she was unloading nitric acid from a tanker and there was a leak in the hose; acid also got onto the tires and started a fire
- Employees at Vermont coating company C.E. Bradley Laboratory started a batch of…something…and were missing an ingredient, so let it sit overnight. The mixture started to react. Eventually, with the help of emergency responders, they started adding water, “slowly bringing down the temperature until it formed a chemically stable sludge.”
- More than 500 workers in 25 family-run tinfoil processing workshops in China have lead poisoning, along with 103 of their children; “Last month, 74 people were detained and production was suspended at hundreds of battery factories in the same province after dozens of people were sickened by lead and cadmium poisoning.”
- 400,000 gallons of phenol-containing wastewater spilled from the Mountain Stae Carbon coke plant in West Virginia
- 100 L of hydrochloric acid leaked at an U.K. industrial estate when a forklift punctured a container
- Trichloroacetic acid, used to treat skin conditions, spilled at a medical center in California and the building was evacuated
- A man walking by a hardware store was sprayed in the face when a spray paint can was crushed. Fortunately, he happened to wear sunglasses, so his eyes weren’t hit.
- “Benzene and alkene” spilled from a factory into China’s Tiaoxi River, disrupting water supply to 800,000 people
- A hazmat team was called to investigate a strong odor at the Marine Science Center at Stony Brook University; the incident was due to a confluence of events, says a Stony Brook EH&S specialist on the DCHAS e-mail list:
A waste container with hydrochloric acid in the fume hood was not tightly closed. The fume hood alarm was out of calibration. The fume hood was turned off for the night. The electricity went out & then came back on a few minutes later from an electrical storm (resetting the alarm). It was record breaking heat & humidity last week. The police officers walked by the lab after the storm & heard the alarm and entered to investigate. No one was injured – the officers were checked out & released. There was no “leak”. There was no chlorine (just the vapors in the room from the HCl, which quickly dissipated once the fume hood was turned back on). But the Level A Hazmat decon made really nice pictures in the paper on a slow day.
- On roads, railways, and shipyards: sulfuric acid, acetonitrile, sodium potassium carbonate, a diisocyanate-based chemical
Not covered: meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels