Chemical health and safety news from the first week of the year:
Continuing discussion on Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji’s death and the charges filed against the University of California and UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran:
- Harran appeared in court on Tuesday and was released on his own recognizance; he is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 2
- Doing Good Science asked who is ethically responsible for keeping an academic chemistry lab safe? Chemjobber responded.
- Chemjobber also posted about how the charges might be changing policies at other universities.
- It’s the Rheo Thing asked how will the law and chemistry interact?
- From The Pump Handle:
This case is hauntingly similar to so many other worker death cases about which I’ve written. From employers failing to ensure that basic safety regulations are followed, and insisting the incident was simply an unfortunate accident, to prouncements that the employer has reinvigorated its safety program while still being cited for serious safety violations.
- The Pump Handle also posted a letter from Sangji’s sister to the Los Angeles County District Attorney:
I’ve already told your office in person and in letters about Sheri’s potential, her joy of life, her desire to make a contribution in the world. But let me just tell you again, simply – we miss her. We miss her all the time. We miss talking to her, laughing with her. We miss the sound of her voice. We miss her smile. We miss seeing her in her favorite red T shirt that was so threadbare my mom would threaten to throw it out every time Sheri wore it – but now keeps under her pillow.
Other links of note:
- Sandia National Laboratories scientist David O’Keefe took his chemistry into retirement and established an “elaborate and potentially deadly” home lab in rural New Mexico to research new explosives; he died a few months ago and clean-up of the property is estimated to cost $50,000
- @jfreebo caught my attention with a tweeted quote from Familiar Letters on Chemistry by Freiherr von Justus Liebig:
Ten, twenty, or more pounds weight of mercury, brought into contact with a mixture of ether and solid carbonic acid, becomes in a few moments firm and malleable. This, however, cannot be accomplished without considerable danger. A melancholy accident occurred at Paris, which will probably prevent for the future the formation of solid carbonic acid in these large quantities, and deprive the next generation of the gratification of witnessing these curious experiments. Just before the commencement of the lecture in the Laboratory of the Polytechnic School, an iron cylinder, two feet and a half long and one foot in diameter, in which carbonic acid had been developed for experiment before the class, burst, and its fragments were scattered about with the most tremendous force; it cut off both the legs of the assistant and killed him on the spot. This vessel, formed of the strongest cast-iron, and shaped like a cannon, had often been employed to exhibit experiments in the presence of the students. We can scarcely think, without shuddering, of the dreadful calamity such an explosion would have occasioned in a hall filled with spectators.
- Chembark announced the 2011 “Chemmy” award winners, with the prize for accident of the year going to the Boston College thionyl chloride explosion
- The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released a report and video on the three explosions that collectively killed five workers earlier this year at Hoeganaes’ metal powder manufacturing plant in Tennessee:
It apparently continued operating with no improvement in safety after a Jan. 31, 2011, dust explosion killed two maintenance workers, a dust-related accident injured two other workers in March 2011, and a May 27, 2011, dust explosion killed three more workers. The board found combustible dust piled up to four inches deep at the factory in an environment that used hydrogen and found that the facility even flared the explosive gas inside the plant.
- Agilent agreed to pay $40,000 in fines for safety lapses that led to an explosion involving a molecular beam epitaxy device that seriously burned a worker in April:
Agilent knew there were problems with the piece of high-tech machinery that exploded because similar incidents occurred two times in 2010 and the company failed to fix the problem, according to the [California] Division of Occupational Safety and Health. … Colbus was not wearing the required protective equipment and clothing at the time of the explosion, which released hazardous substances including phosphorous, arsenic and lead, according to Cal-OSHA.
- Toxic releases rose in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency
- France nuclear industry told to boost safety
- Orica plans to restart the ammonia plant in Australia that was shut down in August after several leaks over the previous few months
Fires and explosions:
- An explosion at China’s Shanghai Habo Chemical Technology was caused by mishandling of peracetic acid; one worker is missing and three others were injured
- Explosion averted: An employee at separations company Pall in New York noticed that a 55-gallon drum of something was bulging and sounded the alarm; the material was stabilized and removed
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.