Friday chemical safety round-up

Chemical health and safety news from the past week:

  • The University of California is hosting a webinar on Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions. Bob Hill, chair of the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety Safety Culture Task Force, will be presenting. It’s on Thursday, October 25, 2012, starting at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern. (If anyone wants to attend and recap in a blog post, I’d welcome the contribution! I will be at C&EN’s annual Advisory Board meeting.)
  • Navy’s Treasure Island, Calif., radiation report found wanting: “Problems began not long after the Navy released an earlier 2006 report about the history of radioactive material on the island. It suggested that, unlike highly contaminated former bases such as the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard, the Treasure Island Naval Shipyard was relatively clean. Soon afterward, cleanup workers began finding dozens of encrusted disks of radium-226 buried in the soil in unexpected places. They dug trenches to check for further radioactivity, and found readings down as deep as the water level of the San Francisco Bay.”
  • OSHA cited Wisconsin’s Fontarome Chemical and proposed fines of $51,800 for process safety management failures and other safety violations following an April fire at the company’s pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. The agency also cited Cleveland Tank & Supply and proposed fines of $72,800 for “failing to assess workers’ exposure to hexavalent chromium” and other health and safety violations.
  • Jennifer Aniston signs on to promote Robert Langer‘s hair care company, gets photographed in a lab without eye protection or a lab coat. On the one hand, it’s a lab. On the other, she’s there to see hair care products. (via @stephaniekays)

Fires and explosions:

  • Workers “were mixing newspaper ink in a vat when a carbon compound apparently ignited … sparking an explosion and a fire in the building’s ductwork” at an ink manufacturing plant in New Jersey; one worker was sent to the hospital, others were treated at the scene
  • Bomb technicians blew up an “old crate of ether” at the Napa County, Calif., fairgrounds: “The ether was apparently stashed in about 1957 as part of a Civil Defense program that would have turned the fairgrounds into a 200-bed hospital in the case of an emergency, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The ether was stored in 96 4-ounce bottles, including one that was left open, leaving the material inside in a crystallized form.”

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • Eight tons of hydrofluoric acid spilled at a Hube Global plant in South Korea; as of Oct. 8 five workers had died and more than 3,000 people were injured. The South Korean government declared it a “special disaster zone.”
  • A hydrogen sulfide leak at a Eurofins Environmental Testing laboratory in the U.K. sent nine people to the hospital
  • Possible consequence of drinking a liquid nitrogen cocktail: Losing part of your stomach, as happened to a UK teenager
  • I don’t usually cover personal attacks but this is pretty horrific: There was a fight in a chemistry lab at Australia’s University of New South Wales. One student allegedly threw sulfuric acid in another’s face and then attacked him with a hammer. The victim is now in a burn unit in an induced coma. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

Not covered (usually): meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; things that happen at recycling centers (dispose of your waste properly, people!); and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Is that really a lab Jennifer Anniston is in? It looks as fake as one in a 1950s sci-fi film. The other chemist (not wearing safety glasses) looks a little like Glenn Seaborg.

    The ether news story said “…there was never any immediate danger to anyone… .” Unless they kicked a bottle and the peroxide detonated. I wonder if the bottles were glass.

  2. It is rather clean and tidy, isn’t it?

  3. Can anyone out there provide even a single citation to articles published in a scientific publication describing a crystalline peroxide of diethyl ether? Or of an example of an old container of diethyl ether exploding upon simple handling? No anecdotes, or replies akin to “everyone knows this is true”, please.

  4. Are you questioning the crystalline part of the peroxide-forming part?

    But how’s this for a start:
    “The autoxidation of ethyl ether,” by A.M. Clover of Parke, Davis, and Co. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1922, 44, 1107.

    That paper notes “frequent references occur in pharmaceutical literature to explosions which have resulted from ether residues”, for which it references:
    “Ueber abnorme Aether-Explosionen,” Von Ed. Schär, Arch. Pharm. 1887, 225, 623
    Cleve, Chem. News 1891, 63, 101 and Pharm. Zig. 1889, 34, 426
    Neander, Chem. Zig. 1902, 26, 336

    The Arch. Pharm. paper is in German, which I can’t read so I don’t know what it actually says about the conditions for the explosion.

  5. Jyllian:

    My question was in two parts and very specific. First, citations to a crystalline peroxide of diethyl ether. Second, citations to explosions of presumably peroxidized diethyl ether from simple handling of the container – opening the cap, dropping and/or breaking the bottle, and the like.

    I am well aware of the peroxide-forming nature of diethyl ether, and that low levels of peroxide can result in explosions when the ether is evaporated and the residue is subjected to heat, the classic example being a distillation pot. I am questioning the basis for which bomb disposal squads are called in to deal with old diethyl ether samples, and especially the basis for deciding to do a controlled detonation as a means of disposal. Diethyl ether is a Class B peroxidizable. I do not think that the response such as the one described in this latest article is warranted. If anyone out there disagrees, then why isn’t diethyl ether a Class A peroxidizable?

  6. An example of an ether explosion from the University of York: “Whilst activities involving vacuum distillation and rotary evaporation present the greatest risk of generating dangerous levels of peroxides, peroxides can form in many types of ether by simple reaction with atmospheric oxygen during storage. Indeed, a spontaneous explosion of a bottle of diethyl ether in this Department several years ago is thought, retrospectively, to have been caused by high levels of peroxide that built up during years of storage.”

  7. Ken: Your skepticism is warranted, lots of explosive risks get blown out of proportion, like the danger of old, dry picric acid (no risk unless contaminated with metals), however in the case of diethyl ether, Dimeric Ethylidine peroxide can form and is a solid. mp 63C Encyclopedia of explosives and related items, vol VI, p E306.

    Also, look here for a story about an old can of diethyl ether exploding after being drained post by “bromic acid”

  8. Looking in Bretherick’s Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards under diethyl ether you can see that it states that the polymeric 1-oxyperoxides are dangerously explosive after standing and evaporation. (“Modellversuche zur Autoxydation der Äther”, Alfred Rieche and Richard Meister, Angewandte Chemie, 1936, Volume 49, Issue 5, pages 101–103.; Bretherick’s handbook has the reference’s authors wrong) It does not mention shock-sensitivity. As an undergrad I was told that the ether peroxide was diethyl peroxide. Looking in Bretherick’s handbook you find that it has a ambiguous nature. One reference states a lack of shock-sensitivity (“Ueber Diäthyl-peroxyd”, Adolf Baeyer and Victor Villiger, Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 1900, Volume 33, Issue 3, pages 3387–3393.) and others show it to be sensitive (Fire and Explosion Hazards of Peroxy Compounds, Special Publication No. 394, Castrantas, H. M., Banerjee, D. K., Noller, D. C., Philadelphia, ASTM, 1965, 15.) and detonable (Baker, G. et al., Chemistry & Industry, 1964, 1988). However, I do not have access to these last two references and the first two are in German. I would guess that the nature of the peroxide is unclear or at least a mixture that can give you various results when tested. I hope this helps.

  9. Ten bucks says Jennifer Aniston is also wearing open-toed shoes in the laboratory.