Chemical health and safety news from the past two weeks:
- ChemBark reflected on the too-short lives of chemists Sheri Sangji and Jason Altom: “so long as we forgo meaningful changes in favor of cosmetic ones that we don’t even bother to sustain anyway, we will continue to experience frustration and tragedy”
- Chemjobber asked in response, “How do institutions change?” (not easily)
- In Science’s Taken for Granted column, How to live with danger: “When properly trained for the worst, people are equipped to maximize the chances of a good outcome, this pilot said. Experience has taught him that in an emergency, training rather than emotion takes over, allowing people to calmly and immediately do what makes sense.”
- In Texas, Tech strives to raise awareness, minimize risks after series of laboratory explosions and Some Texas tier-one schools learn from Tech’s accidents
- And the University of Maryland has new lab safety policies after a waste incident last September: “While labs for this semester have not yet begun, Doyle said they will be more organized, with particular attention given to the handling of chemical waste. Simple measures such as color-coding, labeling containers with large block letters and putting them in specified places can help prevent accidents, making it nearly impossible to be careless, he added.”
- Colorblind chemistry wondered Why would you do that?! – Making cyclic peroxides from triketones
- AIChE’s February issue of the Process Safety Beacon focuses on mechanical safety and (im)properly bolted flanges
- California’s job safety program works – when it’s enforced
- OSHA has new videos to help workers learn proper use of respirators
- The owner of gunpowder manufacturer Black Mag Industries now faces manslaughter and negligent homicide charges for a 2010 explosion in which two workers were killed and one was injured; last year OSHA issued 61 citations against the New Hampshire company and fined it $1,232,500, and the company agreed to shut down
- Two New England companies settled with the EPA on violating hazardous waste management requirements–Hubbard-Hall and Monson agreed to pay a total of $179,000 in fines and donate about $43,000 worth of equipment and training to local fire departments
- In Shanghai, China, 73 companies dealing with hazardous chemicals were shut down and 15 relocated over the last year, “part of a city drive to pull out of this sector due to safety concerns”
Fires and explosions:
- An explosion at a chemical factory in South Africa killed two workers
- An explosion at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, involved lithium aluminum hydride, a safety officer there tells me, and a safety letter is reportedly coming to C&EN. The safety officer also commented that it was a good thing the person involved was wearing eye protection.
- There was also an explosion in the chemistry lab prep room at South Carolina State University; a lab technician was injured on her forearm and five students were taken to the hospital for evaluation for chemical exposure
- A fire at State University of New York, Canton, reportedly started in a chemistry laboratory; no word yet on the cause
- A fire in the chemistry building at York University, in the U.K., may have started in a fume hood; it sounds like the building was heavily damaged: “Eleven fire crews and an aerial ladder platform were sent to the scene as firefighters opened up a large area of the roof as they tackled the flames This week work has been under way to stabilise the building due to possible asbestos and structural damage before assessments could begin as to the cause of the fire and the extent of damage caused.”
- A fire at Scotland’s University of Strathclyde also sounds like it started in a laboratory of some kind
Leaks, spills, and other exposures:
- Returning to an old report: A tetrahydrofuran spill at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, sounds like something of a freak accident. According to the school’s chemical hygiene officer, Jeff Zebrowski, a researcher was removing a container of the solvent from the bottom of a storage cabinet, his or her shoulder bumped into and lifted up a shelf higher in the cabinet, dislodging it from its supports and sending its contents crashing down. The shelves just sit on the supports with nothing to anchor them in place, which in hindsight seems like a problem, but neither the school nor the cabinet manufacturer has ever heard of this happening before. Zebrowski is now experimenting with rubber shims to hold the shelves down on the supports.
- Acetylene tetrabromide leaked at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- At Dover Chemical in Ohio, a worker was loosening an overhead pipe when chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and paraffin spilled down his front. “When firefighters arrived, other employees had the man in a shower, where he was being decontaminated.” He appeared to suffer “minor chemical burns” around his face and head.
- Demolition work at a former BASF plant in Pennsylvania ruptured an old pipeline, causing a spill of liquid vinyl acetate
- A worker fell into a reactor pool when trying to retrieve a flashlight at California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant; “He was wearing all of the appropriate safety equipment, including a life preserver vest” and “did not suffer significant radiation exposure”
- Nearly 60 L of “a corrosion inhibitor for alcohols and gasolines containing oxygenates” spilled at a Sucrogen bioethanol plant in Australia
- Also in Australia, nearly a liter of mercury spilled at a sugar mill, and several additional containers were collected for disposal
- High levels of cadmium were detected in the Liujiang River, which provides drinking water for Liuzhou, China; seven chemical plant executives have now been detained in the incident
Not covered: meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels.