Chemical health and safety news from the past couple of weeks:
- The March Process Safety Beacon covers a topic that certainly can apply to laboratories: Are your signs and labels confusing?
- OSHA found the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center at fault for three serious workplace safety violations in the death of a researcher from meningitis last year. The violations were for “failing to require workers to use a safety enclosure when performing microbiological work with a viable bacteria culture; provide training on the signs and symptoms of illnesses as a result of employee exposure to a viable bacteria culture, such as meningitis; and provide available vaccines for workers potentially exposed to bacteria.” I don’t see that there’s a fine attached to the violations, which might be a limit of how OSHA oversees federal workplaces.
- California’s Contra Costa County, the location of a fire at a Chevron plant last summer, adopted an industrial safety ordinance in 1999. The most recent annual report on the ordinance shows that “major chemical accidents and releases” have generally decreased since the ordinance went into effect. Local news stories said that 2012 had an “uptick” in incidents. Looking at the raw numbers, the “uptick” just looks like noise in the data, although 2012 does look worse than the last few years when the county weighs the scores for incident severity (report pages 17-18).
- U.S. Supreme Court accepts donning and doffing case: Must workers “be paid for the time they spend donning and doffing protective equipment and then traveling to and from their workstations”?
- Dozens of companies together will pay $1.6 million to settle with EPA over hazardous waste dumping at a California landfill
- West Virginia regulators are seeking $250,000 in new water pollution fines against Axiall relating to a former PPG plant
- An Indiana nitrogen fertilizer plant is on hold over link to bombs in Afghanistan
- Managers of a Samsung Electronics plant could face charges of negligent homicide for a fatal hydrofluoric acid leak in January
- The legacy of computer chip manufacturing in Silicon Valley: Google now has to manage trichloroethylene vapor emitted by the soil under two of its buildings
- Long-serving chemical safety board member, Isadore “Irv” Rosenthal, died Feb. 10 of pneumonia.
Fires and explosions:
- An explosion and fire at a Bestchem plant in China injured five and led to the evacuation of 20,000 people
- In India, a fire started from a leaking gas cylinder at NDT Chemicals. Fires also damaged Yashashwi Rasayan and Vivek Chemicals.
- Nearly 2,500 kg of an organic peroxide overheated and ignited at a OneSteel factory in Australia; 8 people were hospitalized and another 17 had to be decontaminated.
- Some sort of cleaning process caused a flash fire at a microencapsulation facility owned by Lipo Technologies in Ohio
- A fire destroyed the chemistry laboratory of the University of Abuja, in Nigeria
- An explosion in a “Range & Wildlife” lab at Texas Tech University sounds like it was from a natural gas leak of some sort (I’ve asked TTU for more details and will update when I hear back)
Leaks, spills, and other exposures:
- A “liquid chlorine” spill at a chemical plant in Russia injured 30 people
- An alarm warned of an arsine gas leak at laser manufacturer Alfalight in Wisconsin
- After an electrical problem caused “a short and a minor explosion” at the F.X. Matt Brewery in New York, firefighters discovered that “200 to 250 gallons of [2%] sodium hydroxide had leaked out of a 1,000 gallon vat on the third floor and was dripping down into a two-story industrial space below.”
- A University of Maine lab manager was neutralizing chlorine tablets when he or she “added sodium bisulfate and water to the mix, which ‘reacted and offed’” chlorine gas
- Tetramethylethylenediamine spilled in a lab at the University of Texas, Permian Basin
- A broken, warming freezer in a chemistry lab at the University of New Brunswick, in Canada, led to hazmat call-out because of concerns the chemicals in the freezer might react as they warmed
- Unidentified chemicals leaked at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of South Carolina
- A Massachusetts General Hospital lab technician was injured when glassware containing tetrazine shattered
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.
UPDATE on the Texas Tech incident: Associate Vice President for Research Alice Young tells me that the explosion was from natural gas that apparently accumulated behind a wall from a break in a line outside the building. A wildlife research group prepares biological samples in the lab. According to the EH&S incident report, “With the laboratory in a good state of order and chemicals stored properly, there were no secondary incidents.”