Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until the end of June
May24

Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until the end of June

From the University of Hawaii, the latest on one of the investigations into the March explosion that caused a postdoctoral researcher to lose one of her arms: The independent investigation into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa laboratory is now expected to be complete by end of June 2016. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, retained by UH to conduct the investigation, has arranged to test certain materials. The final completion of the investigation report is dependent on the testing and the test results. The investigation was originally to be completed by the end of April, then the University of Hawaii said late...

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Georgia student burned in “rainbow demo” alcohol fire to receive $1.5 million
May11

Georgia student burned in “rainbow demo” alcohol fire to receive $1.5 million

A woman who was burned in a 2013 fire started when a high school teacher added methanol to an already-burning rainbow flame test demonstration will receive $1.5 million as part of a legal settlement, says the Daily Report, a news organization that covers Georgia courts and law. From the story: According to the plaintiff’s lawyers and the complaint in the case, Chapel Hill [High School] was hosting an Advanced Placement open house on the evening of Oct. 3, 2013. As part of the event, [student Olivia Johnson] and an instructor, Ashley Mathieson, were conducting a chemistry experiment in the school hallway that involved identifying various chemicals by the color of the flame they emit when burned. As part of the experiment, substances were placed in a crucible or petri dish and Mathieson poured liquid methanol over them from a 4-liter jug, which Johnson would then light. The complaint said Johnson was holding a lighter to the dish when Mathieson became engaged in an “animated conversation” with another student and her mother, turning her back to Johnson, the complaint said. Mathieson abruptly turned and poured more methanol on the open flame, causing a “flash fire that engulfed [Johnson] in a ball of flames.” … A series of “after” [photos of Johnson] shows widespread scarring on her hands, arms, chest, back and neck. … [Attorney Joseph Neal Jr. said that] school systems are protected from suit by sovereign immunity, while school employees enjoy the protection of official immunity. Only if such an employee can be shown to have negligently performed or failed to perform a ministerial duty—one which is mandated by rule or law—is there exposure to liability. That threshold, said Neal, makes it virtually impossible to sue a teacher or principal. But he said a conversation with a laboratory safety expert who specializes in school fires alerted him to the National Fire Protection Association safety standards—standards that had been incorporated into Georgia’s fire safety code and adopted by Douglas County ordinance. “That means they’re law; they’re mandatory,” Neal said. In September, the lawyers, along with ChancoSchiffer partner Douglas Chanco, filed a suit in Douglas County Superior Court on Johnson’s behalf, naming Mathieson and Chapel Hill Principal Sean Kelly as defendants. The suit said the defendants had violated several “ministerial, mandatory, and non-discretionary Douglas County and state of Georgia fire codes, laws and regulations” by conducting the rainbow experiment in a school hallway not separated from the building by a fire barrier, improperly storing and handling the methanol, failing to safeguard against the exposure of hazardous materials and fumes to flame and ignoring a red-lettered sign on the chemical cabinet where...

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Who pays when an undergraduate is injured in a lab?
May10

Who pays when an undergraduate is injured in a lab?

When an undergraduate researcher accidentally synthesized a diazonium salt at Texas Tech University in March and got himself an an ambulance trip to the local hospital, the incident raised a new issue for the school, wrote chemistry professor Dominick Casadonte to the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list: The student was wearing his PPE, everything was done with safety in mind. He suffered only superficial lacerations on his hands. The biggest expense for him was the ambulance ride to the emergency room and being treated (no stitches were needed; I think he was given neosporin and sent home after a 2 hour wait). When he contacted his insurance company, they wanted to know if they were the ones who should have to pay for the ambulance ride, etc. He asked the professor overseeing him (the student was doing undergraduate research for course credit, and according to legal, does not fall under workman’s compensation). Texas Tech is a “self-insured” institution. The department has been instructed not to pay, as it would be an admission of liability, and could open the doors for payouts for any minor freshman chemistry lab accident, for example. The university legal would perhaps need to deal with the person’s insurance company or a lawyer, should the student sue. My question to all of you: We are researching how other universities deal with the issue of who pays for medical care for minor accidents. What do your universities do? How do you deal with the financial aspects of accidents? Are your institutions insured? If so, for liability only? Liability and damages to infrastructure? I’ve said this before about workman’s compensation for graduate students and postdocs, but now I’ll apply it to undergraduates as well: Find out what your university’s policies are and what you will have to pay for personally if you’re injured. If expenses are going to come out of your health insurance, assuming that your insurance company doesn’t protest, then what are your deductible and/or copays for ambulances or emergency room visits? Schools have a range of policies, as the responses to Casadonte’s question...

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Inadvertent synthesis of triacetone triperoxide (TATP)
May03

Inadvertent synthesis of triacetone triperoxide (TATP)

Via C&EN’s letters to the editor this week, some 1970s-era safety letters regarding inadvertent synthesis of triacetone triperoxide (TATP): Violent explosion (Feb. 21, 1977, page 5): While making 6-amino-penicillanic acid S-oxide, there was an explosion in our laboratory, at which time one man was injured. The cause of the accident has been found to be trimeric acetone peroxide. For the experiment in question we used 1 mole of 6-APA. It was oxidized according to the instructions published in “Synthesis” 1976, page 264, and precipitated as p-toluene sulfonate in the presence of acetone. 130 grams (0.32 mole) of the product was treated with triethylamine in isopropanol according to the instructions. The precipitate was filtered with suction on a glass sinter, washed with acetone, and air was allowed to flow through the filter cake. When the technician who was performing the experiment took the sinter in his hand and touched the precipitate with a steel spatula, it exploded violently. The technician received severe burns and splinter wounds in his eyes, hands, and body. Two windows were broken and there were holes in the glass of a fume cupboard at 3 m distance. The surface of the work table was spoiled. The explosive substance was found to be trimeric acetone peroxide. It was isolated from the mother liquor, from which it crystallized as large crystals. The melting point of the substance was 97° C. In literature [“Encyclopedia of Explosives and Related Items,” Vol. 1, Basil T. Fedoroff, Picatinny Arsenal, Dover, N.J. (1960)] the melting range is given at 94 to 98.5° C. The infrared spectrum was identified with the aid of a computer, and it was identical with the spectrum in the Sadtler catalog. On the basis of the NMR spectrum it was established to contain only one type of protons, τ = 8.5. The explosion of trimeric acetone peroxide was probably caused by the combined effect of static energy and friction. The static energy accumulated in man can be 30 mJ. We performed different sensitivity tests with the isolated substance. It exploded moist with an 11.5-mJ electric spark. In impact sensitivity tests, it ignited repeatedly with a weight of 2 kg from 10 cm’s height. In friction sensitivity tests, the sample ignited with a weight of 0.5 kg. The ignition sensitivity increased when the substance was dried. Trimeric acetone peroxide was the only explosive compound that we were able to isolate from the mother liquor that was spared. Thus we have every reason to believe that just this substance caused the accident. According to literature, acetone peroxide is easily produced from acetone and hydrogen peroxide catalyzed by an acid. A. Noponen...

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Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until late May
Apr28

Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until late May

From the University of Hawaii regarding the March explosion that caused a postdoctoral researcher to lose one of her arms. UH retained the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety to investigate the incident, and that report was expected this week. The independent investigation into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa laboratory is now expected to be complete in mid to late May. It was initially expected to finish by the end of April. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, retained by UH to conduct the investigation, was unable to send materials involved in the explosion for testing until the Hawaiʻi State Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH), the government agency investigating the accident, completed its review of the accident scene. HIOSH released the materials and scene to UH late last week. … In its preliminary investigation, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety, considered a national leader in laboratory safety, determined that the explosion was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic...

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“We felt the explosion rattle the floor and walls eight floors up…”
Apr26

“We felt the explosion rattle the floor and walls eight floors up…”

We’ve had a lot of comments at C&EN about my story, “Spark from pressure gauge caused University of Hawaii explosion, fire department says.” I thought I’d flag a few of them here: I am a researcher in the same building as the HNEI, although not on the same floor, and not in the same field. We felt the explosion rattle the floor and walls eight floors up – Dr. Ekins-Coward is truly lucky to be alive. The incident has prompted campus-wide laboratory safety re-certification efforts here, particularly with regard to pressurized gas cylinders, whether or not they contain flammable gases. PIs, please take the time to discuss with your lab staff and students proper gas handling – students and staff, if you see red flags, don’t let up until your PI fixes the issue. It really sucks having something like this happen in your University, let alone your own lab building and community. — I can empathize with this researcher…. I work with Hydrogen, CO, and O2 in the lab and did not consider the issue with fires…. I will conduct a SAP review and modify our current working conditions. I teach a safety course and work closely with SAChE but and aware of the LFL and UFL of H2… we as researchers get tunnel vision. I am very sorry it took someone to lose an arm for me to realize the danger I put myself and my researcher at…. I know better. — Where I work, an experiment of this type would never be allowed to become operational until a subject matter expert (or probably a team of them, in this case) fully inspected the design and the operating parameters. Especially if the system was built by a new member of a research team. A full hazard control plan, in writing, would be written up and signed off by anyone touching the experiment. In my world, the subject matter experts are drawn from research scientists familiar with the experimental designs. Since it was a pressurized system containing an explosive hydrogen gas mixture, I suspect that at minimum, there would be an emphasis on a design that minimized risk including volume limits, an inspection for electrical safety, and likely, some sort of containment system would be incorporated to protect against just this sort of catastrophe. A reviewer would probably ask “is there a safer way to introduce the gas mixture into the reactor?”. These sorts of intensive safety programs add time and cost to the business of doing science (but are ubiquitous in industry and government labs), but the flip side is what we see in these pictures: when...

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