How a student unintentionally made an explosive at U Bristol
Feb15

How a student unintentionally made an explosive at U Bristol

Last week, the Safety Zone reported that a University of Bristol student had unintentionally made approximately 40 g of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), prompting building evacuations and a controlled detonation by an explosives team. Here’s a statement about the incident, prepared by Timothy C. Gallagher, a chemistry professor and dean of the Faculty of Science, and Nicholas C. Norman, head of the school of chemistry. On 3 February 2017, a graduate student in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol was carrying out a literature procedure to oxidise an aldehyde to the carboxylic acid using aqueous acidified chlorite. The experiment was carried out on a 5 mmol scale (just under 1g of aldehyde) and risk assessments identifying all hazards had been undertaken and signed off by both student and supervisor. The reaction solvent was acetone (50 mL). Part of the procedure involved adding a quantity of 30% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) solution to remove some of the by-products of the reaction, whose presence was (apparently) associated with a yellow colour (possibly including chlorine dioxide). The literature indicated that H2O2 be added until this yellow colour had disappeared, which should have required about 1 mL of peroxide solution. The student, focusing on the yellow colour, which did not completely disappear, continued to add hydrogen peroxide solution until about 50 mL had been added. During workup to remove the solvent, the student realised that the solvent volume was not decreasing and that the liquid was becoming viscous, and so likely contained far more “product” than was expected. GCMS analysis indicated the presence of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), and it was estimated that this could amount to 30-40g if all the excess H2O2 had reacted with the acetone solvent. At that point, the graduate student immediately alerted the supervisor, who escalated this to the Head of School. A series of decisions were made and actions taken that resulted in the disposal of the suspected TATP by means of a controlled explosion carried out by the emergency services. Nobody was injured and no damage was done in the lab. Although the TATP presented an explosion hazard, the risk of explosion was considered minor due to all material remaining in solution; TATP is far more sensitive to detonation as a solid. Immediate disposal was warranted, however, due to the risk of precipitation/crystallisation of a solid material. There are lessons to be learned from what happened and some messages. First, the student was concerned with adding hydrogen peroxide to remove the yellow colour (due, at least in part, to chlorine dioxide, which is itself a hazardous material), but overlooked the much greater hazard of adding a...

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Student unintentionally makes explosive at University of Bristol
Feb07

Student unintentionally makes explosive at University of Bristol

A University of Bristol graduate student inadvertently synthesized approximately 40 g of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) on Friday, prompting building evacuations and a controlled detonation by an explosives team, chemistry professor and Faculty of Science dean Timothy C. Gallagher has confirmed to C&EN. No one was injured in the incident. The TATP was in solution and not isolated as a solid. When the student realized what had happened, the student handled the situation very responsibly, Gallagher says. Further response by the department, university, and emergency personnel “went like clockwork,” Gallagher adds. Gallagher says that he is “absolutely convinced” that the preparation of TATP was unintentional rather than deliberate or with malicious intent. Gallagher and others at the university are working to understand exactly how the student came to make the explosive, especially in such quantity. Once that is done, Gallagher plans to share more details and all lessons learned with the chemistry community. “It’s the right thing to do,” he says. Chemist commentary: Chemjobber, Reddit Local news coverage: Epigram (student newspaper), Bristol Post,...

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Civil suit filed against University of Hawaii for lab explosion
Jan25

Civil suit filed against University of Hawaii for lab explosion

From my story in C&EN last week: An injured postdoctoral researcher and her spouse have filed a civil suit against the University of Hawaii (UH) and others involved for a 2016 explosion in which the researcher lost one of her arms. At the time of the incident, postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward was preparing a gas mixture of 55% hydrogen, 38% oxygen, and 7% carbon dioxide to feed to bacteria to produce biofuels, according to a report issued by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety (UCCLS). The center was hired by UH to investigate the incident. The gases were combined in an ungrounded 49-L steel tank designed for compressed air, not for hazardous gases. UCCLS concluded that a static discharge most likely caused the explosion. Ekins-Coward lost her right lower arm and elbow and suffered corneal abrasions, facial burns, and loss of high frequency hearing from nerve damage to her ears, according to a civil complaint filed with a Hawaii court on Jan. 9. Ekins-Coward worked for the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. The defendants named in the suit are UH; Jian Yu, the principal investigator of the lab in which Ekins-Coward worked; and Richard E. Rocheleau, director of the institute. From the suit itself: Defendants, and each of them, had a duty to train, warn and provide proper equipment to Thea Ekins-Coward, and to follow all applicable safety codes, standards, and regulations for the laboratory and for the type of experiments being conducted in the laboratory. Defendants, and each of them, negligently, grossly negligently, carelessly and recklessly breached their duty by providing unsafe and improper equipment, by failing to provide adequate training, by failing to follow safety codes, standards and regulations in laboratory safety, by directing THEA EKINS-COWARD to undertake experiments that were inherently and unnecessarily unsafe, by failing to make reasonable inspection of the equipment, and by failing to warn of any inadequacy of the equipment or the possible dangerous condition. These are the specific claims: Personal injury Negligence Gross negligence Failure to warn Dangerous condition of public property Negligent infliction of emotional distress Intentional infliction of emotional distress Loss of consortium The court filing says that “plaintiffs pray that judgment be entered against defendants jointly and severally for reasonable expenses of injury, special and general damages, pre-judgment and postjudgment interest, costs, attorneys’ fees and such other relief as the Court deems just,” but doesn’t give a specific amount of...

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Equipment supplier, engineer fined for death at Texas A&M University at Qatar
Dec27

Equipment supplier, engineer fined for death at Texas A&M University at Qatar

A Qatar court has determined sentences for a supplier of petroleum engineering equipment and one of its employees for a 2014 explosion that killed Texas A&M University in Qatar lab technician Hassan Kamal Hussein, Doha News reports. The court fined the company approximately $5,500 and the employee $2,700. “both guilty parties were ordered to pay [$54,900] to Hussein’s family members in blood money,” the Doha News story says. The company is identified as “Interventions,” which might be Intervention Rentals. Hussein was working with equipment to produce gasoline from natural gas, and a natural gas leak likely led to the explosion. The company and employee were charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to an earlier Doha News story. Hussein was survived by a wife and four children, who were between ages six and 12 when he died, Doha News...

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“Safety is always in season”
Oct13

“Safety is always in season”

When I reflect on my department’s safety training, I realize that too often we send a message to students that we need to behave safely to avoid getting into trouble. “Wear your goggles so you don’t get yelled at.” “Dispose of your waste properly so we don’t get fined.” “No food or drink in the lab so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t shut us down.” Those perspectives cater to the idea that chemists and chemistry make problems, and they instill a culture of compliance rather than a culture of safety. In reality, many of us went into chemistry to solve problems, and being safe is an important component of creating that problem-solution environment. Safety should be a positive identity issue. I am a chemist, so of course I strive to be as safe as I can be. Being safe chemists requires that every one of us own the responsibility for safety. Safety should not be delegated to a set of rules made by a designated safety officer; it should be the concern and responsibility of every person who works in a lab or is part of a process. For example, in the semester when my co-instructor for an advanced lab class was pregnant, I impressed on the students that it was everyone’s responsibility, not just hers, to make sure that she was not accidentally exposed to hazardous chemicals. We should not only be safe as individuals, but we should each contribute energetically and enthusiastically to the safety of the entire community. So writes Laura Pence, a chemistry professor at the University of Hartford and the director of the American Chemical Society’s District I, in a comment in C&EN this week. Read the full piece to see what else she has to say. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t link to the resources she mentions, but they’re all available on the Committee on Chemical Safety’s...

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University of Hawaii fine lowered 40% for lab explosion
Oct12

University of Hawaii fine lowered 40% for lab explosion

From my story at C&EN: The University of Hawaii last week settled its case with the Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division (HIOSH) regarding a laboratory explosion in March. The settlement reduces the number of violations from 15 to nine and the fine from $115,500 to $69,300. … The settlement agreement combines similar violations, including two regarding laboratory exits and, separately, four centering on an inadequate chemical hygiene plan. The reduction in overall number of violations, which were assessed the maximum state penalty of $7,700 each, resulted in the reduced fine. The agreement also revised some wording in the violation descriptions. Go read the story for more, including a list of the violations identified by HIOSH. The settlement agreement is posted here, and a copy of the original citation document with changes marked is...

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