“They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them”
Jul21

“They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them”

Looking at this story about a particular bluff in Oregon’s Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, is there an analogy to be made about research lab safety? The “Pedestal Rock” is on a notorious sandstone bluff at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, which is fenced off and bordered by signs warning people not to go there. Seven people have died in the area since 2009. Six fatal falls have taken place during the past two years. Rescue efforts by the local fire district and U.S. Coast Guard cost upward of $21,000 per hour, often topping out near $106,000. Yet people continue to flood past the fence and signs. Adults, teenagers, grandparents, photographers and even parents with small children disregard the warnings. “We’re not seeing much confusion about what the current signs and fence mean,” said Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. “Even people who are aware of the deaths walk right past the fence and signs into that area. They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them.” … Starting last month, [Park Ranger Lisa Stevenson] patrols the fence at Cape Kiwanda. Leading with friendliness and facts, she looks to start a dialogue rather than a confrontation, even when people don’t want to hear it. h/t...

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NAS releases report on “Health Risks of Indoor Exposure to Particulate Matter”
Jul14

NAS releases report on “Health Risks of Indoor Exposure to Particulate Matter”

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine this week released a report from a workshop focusing on the “Health Risks of Indoor Exposure to Particulate Matter.” From the description: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines PM as a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets comprising a number of components, including “acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen and mold spores)”. The health effects of outdoor exposure to particulate matter (PM) are the subject of both research attention and regulatory action. Although much less studied to date, indoor exposure to PM is gaining attention as a potential source of adverse health effects. Indoor PM can originate from outdoor particles and also from various indoor sources, including heating, cooking, and smoking. Levels of indoor PM have the potential to exceed outdoor PM levels. Understanding the major features and subtleties of indoor exposures to particles of outdoor origin can improve our understanding of the exposure–response relationship on which ambient air pollutant standards are based. The EPA’s Indoor Environments Division commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to hold a workshop examining the issue of indoor exposure to PM more comprehensively and considering both the health risks and possible intervention strategies. Participants discussed the ailments that are most affected by particulate matter and the attributes of the exposures that are of greatest concern, exposure modifiers, vulnerable populations, exposure assessment, risk management, and gaps in the science. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop. I don’t see anything in it that specifically addresses articulate matter exposure in laboratories, but some of the ways to mitigate particulate exposure might work in lab...

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Safely experimenting with actinides
Jun02

Safely experimenting with actinides

A few weeks ago, I wrote a C&EN Science Concentrate about a new californium complex with covalent bonds to its ligands rather than the ionic interactions traditionally expected for actinides. The work was led by Thomas E. Albrecht-Schmitt, a chemistry professor at Florida State University. His lab at FSU works with thorium, protactinium, uranium, neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium, californium, and—soon, for the first time–berkelium. His lab works with those elements safely by investing in protective equipment and meticulously planning experiments. Most of the actinides in Albrecht-Schmitt’s lab only present a concern if people inhale or ingest them, he says. It’s when they get to americium that they have to start thinking about radiation exposure. For americium, the concern is gamma emissions; for curium it’s spontaneous fission to release a neutron. And for californium, the only isotope available in experimental quantity is 249Cf, which releases high-energy gamma radiation. “To shield to background levels we need 2 inches of lead,” Albrecht-Schmitt says. Safety in his lab starts with shoes. “The most common way in which radioactive material leaves a lab is when someone unknowingly steps in a contaminated area and walks out,” Albrecht-Schmitt says. National labs tackle the problem by using foot covers, but his group members have dedicated lab shoes that they change into when they walk in and leave behind when they walk out. His lab also has glove boxes dedicated to transuranium chemistry. Unlike standard glove boxes, which run at positive pressure to protect the box contents from air, Albrecht-Schmitt’s has some that under negative pressure—sucking air in to prevent the spread of particulate matter. “The exhaust from the pumps and boxes is routed through a very sophisticated filter system,” Albrecht-Schmitt says. When doing lab work, Albrecht-Schmitt and his group members wear double gloves. They also use masking tape to tape the inner glove to their lab coats. That way they never have exposed skin, and if someone thinks their hands have been contaminated, they can remove the outer glove and still be protected. Working in a glove box adds a third layer to the hands. The lab has several radiation counters, including general ones to detect any kind of radiation and specific ones to check for alpha, beta, and gamma emissions. There’s also a special hand and foot monitor that people step on for a scan before leaving the lab. Lab coats get checked and replaced as needed. “Students who do low-level work may replace theirs once a year, but routine work with short-lived isotopes may mean replacing them 3-4 times a year,” Albrecht-Schmitt says. Used coats go into radioactive waste. And then there are the inspections....

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Dow teams up with universities on lab safety, how’d the UC “Creating Safety Cultures” webinar go?
Oct29

Dow teams up with universities on lab safety, how’d the UC “Creating Safety Cultures” webinar go?

Following up on a blog post last spring about a new lab safety partnership between Dow Chemical and the University of Minnesota, I’ve got a story in today’s issue of C&EN delving into the details of what Dow and its partner universities have done so far. Since the program started, Dow has expanded it to include Penn State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and each school is experimenting with different Dow-inspired ideas. Also, students, take note: It’s not just the schools that have benefited from the interactions between Dow and the universities. Dow has changed one of its practices as well, Gupta says. Dow recruiters are now asking questions about safety in on-campus interviews, looking for people who have taken leadership positions or tried to emphasize safety in their own work. Separately, did anyone attend the University of California’s webinar last week on “Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions.” How was it? Did you get anything useful out of it? I was enmeshed in training and our annual Advisory Board and staff meetings for much of last week, so I had to miss it. Last but not least, I hope that everyone on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard stays safe and dry during...

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The principles of “inherently safer” processes or experiments
Jul23

The principles of “inherently safer” processes or experiments

The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released a video a couple of weeks ago on “Inherently Safer: The Future of Risk Reduction.” Although the video stems from CSB and National Research Council investigations into the BayerCropScience explosion in 2008, the principles of inherently safer processes can also be applied to research-scale experiments. As outlined in the video, those principles are: Minimize – reduce the amount of hazardous material in the process Substitute – replace one material with another that is less hazardous Moderate – use less hazardous process conditions, such as lower pressure or temperature Simplify – design processes to be less complicated and therefore less prone to failure “It’s not a specific technology or a set of tools and activities, but it’s really an approach to design and it’s a way of thinking,” said Dennis Hendershot, a consultant with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Center for Chemical Process Safety, at a 2009 CSB meeting. “The safety features are built right into the process, not added on. Hazards are eliminated or significantly reduced rather than controlled or managed.” The video goes on to say that the goal of inherently safer process design is not only to prevent an accident but to reduce the consequences of an accident should one occur. A research lab experiment gone wrong, of course, is unlikely to affect the surrounding community in the way that a manufacturing incident might. But research lab incidents have cost millions of dollars and caused personal injuries in the form of lost eyes, hands, and fingers; burns and other unspecified injuries; and deaths of several researchers (for more, see the Laboratory Safety Institute’s Memorial...

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Lab safety survey still open
Jul16

Lab safety survey still open

Happy Monday, all! The laboratory safety survey sponsored by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, BioRAFT, and Nature Publishing Group is still open for another week, until July 23. If you haven’t taken it, consider doing so at go.nature.com/7LDJlI.

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