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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On nitrous oxide tank explosions and whipped cream shortages
Dec21

On nitrous oxide tank explosions and whipped cream shortages

The canned whipped cream shortage caused by a fatal explosion at an Airgas facility in August has been all over the news for the last couple of weeks. Plant operator Jesse Graham Folmar, 32, was killed in the explosion. The explosion involved a nitrous oxide holding tank and two tankers, and the facility has been closed since. That has caused a shortage of the gas, which serves as the whipping agent in whipped cream dispensers. Atlantic reporter Sarah Zhang talked to U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board investigator Dan Tillema about the explosion. Although the CSB report is not out yet, here’s what Tillema said about it: [Tillema] now thinks the likely culprit is the pump used to get nitrous oxide into the tanker. (There is also a small chance it was stray static electricity, which is impossible to completely rule out.) Residual heat in the pump can heat up the nitrous oxide enough to make the gas decompose into nitrogen and oxygen. This reaction releases more heat, which in turn makes more gas decompose, and so on. Kaboom. Tillema’s investigation will be published early next year, along with recommendations to prevent such accidents in the future. Also: Tillema says he has gotten questions about the accident’s connection to the whipped cream shortage. But as someone who has lived and breathed this investigation for months, he can’t help but think of the man who died. “It’s hard for me to worry about the whipped cream knowing that Jesse’s family members and coworkers are thinking about a lot more than whipped cream this year,” he...

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China tightens grip on hazardous chemicals
Dec12

China tightens grip on hazardous chemicals

From Jean-Francois Tremblay’s C&EN story: China’s highest decision-making body, the State Council, has unveiled a three-year plan to prevent accidents involving hazardous chemicals. The plan was crafted in response to the August 2015 explosion at a hazardous goods storage site in Tianjin that killed 165 people, most of them firefighters. … Countrywide audits will certainly reduce the risk of industrial accidents involving hazardous goods, observes Kai Pflug, president of the Shanghai-based advisory firm Management Consulting – Chemicals. “Hazardous chemicals have been very frequently stored and shipped in ways that were prohibited by Chinese law,” he says. But the country doesn’t need new regulations, Pflug says. “The accident in Tianjin wouldn’t have been so bad if existing rules had been followed,” he notes. Already, Pflug reports, European chemical companies operating in China complain that shipping regulations are too onerous. And some ports refuse to accept hazardous chemicals, forcing firms to use ports that are farther away from customers, Pflug says. “Longer road shipments don’t help safety,” he notes. Go read the full story for...

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