Friday chemical safety round-up

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:

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:

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. It is interesting to see how much of an impact a timely and thoughtful letter can have. Heavy stuff. That said, her argument was very heavy on emotion and very light on facts/details. It appears there can be little doubt that the family will pursue this case relentlessly through all possible avenues in the legal system.

  2. @Paul – We don’t know how much impact the letter had, do we? It’s entirely possible that the DA had decided before the weekend and was already planning to file charges on the 27th.


  1. Chemistry World blog » Will Sheri Sangji’s death change safety culture? - [...] detailed twists and turns of the case have been doggedly covered by Jyllian Kemsley over at Chemical & Engineering…