Thursday chemical safety round up
Aug22

Thursday chemical safety round up

Catching up on a few weeks of chemical health and safety news: First, a lab clean-up haiku from the Baran lab blog: Deep beneath the sash BBr3 oozes forth. WTF, Sure/Seal™? A study of flash point values on Safety Data Sheets shows that “there were significant variations between the disclosed and measured flash point values. Overall, more than one third of the products had flash points lower than that disclosed on the MSDS.” From It’s the Rheo Thing, the Added dangers of a fire at a plastics plant and Another monomer John won’t work with From the Pump Handle, on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, Better band-aids or systemic change? From Restricted Data, the Third Core’s Revenge, on the havoc wreaked by the plutonium core that was prepared but never used to bomb Japan in World War II What really went on at Area 51? When workers at Area 51 first came to me in the 1990s, they described how the government had placed discarded equipment and hazardous waste in open trenches the length of football fields, then doused them with jet fuel and set them on fire. The highly toxic smoke blowing through the desert base was known as “London fog” by workers. Many came down with classic skin and respiratory illnesses associated with exposure to burning hazardous waste. A chief aim of the lawsuits was to discover exactly what the workers had been exposed to so they could get appropriate medical care. Wal-Mart reached a settlement with OSHA that includes addressing exposure to workers to cleaning chemicals OSHA also issued a final rule “that will require all federal agencies to submit their OSHA-required injury and illness data to the Bureau of Labor Statistics every year. This data will allow OSHA to analyze the injuries and illnesses that occur among the more than two million federal agency workers and develop training and inspection programs to respond to the hazards identified.” Continued repercussions of the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., including lots of lawsuits Crews rush to clean up former Cold War rocket test site in California, although I question using “rush” in the story headline given that the mess stems from a 1959 nuclear accident Chemical drums found on Okinawa likely contained military maintenance shop and hospital waste, not Agent Orange Fires and explosions: An explosion at Turkish Mechanical & Chemical Industry Corp.’s gunpowder factory in Turkey killed two workers and injured sixteen others; the subsequent fire spread to adjacent fields A fire at hazardous waste company Perma-Fix in Georgia “started as employees were mixing chemicals,” including acetone, although the cause of the fire is still being...

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When is an explosion really an explosion
Aug05

When is an explosion really an explosion

A letter in this week’s issue of C&EN takes us to task on our word choices: I was disappointed to see the words “blast” and “explosion” used to describe the incidents at both Williams Cos. and at CF Industries in Louisiana (C&EN, June 24, page 5). Although both incidents involved fatalities, the CF Industries accident appears to have been caused by the rupture of a nitrogen line or vessel by overpressure. The mainstream press may think that is an explosion, but heaven help us if C&EN does. Richard Rosera Scotch Plains, N.J. This is certainly something that I’ve thought about when reporting on incidents and compiling the news round ups. The challenge is that in a lot of cases, I don’t see good alternatives to “blast” or “explosion.” Complete this sentence: “The reaction released carbon dioxide, so pressure built up in the flask and it _________.” I understand what I suspect is Rosera’s point, which is that a pipe or vessel rupture due to corrosion or pressure is a different scenario from something involving an explosive material, but does the answer lie in different vocabulary or giving the the details of what happened to put words like “explosion” in the appropriate context? The referenced story did that for the CF Industries incident, but similar details were not yet available with the Williams Cos....

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Behind the bench, storeroom managers and department coordinators play an important role in safety
Jul31

Behind the bench, storeroom managers and department coordinators play an important role in safety

By Russ Phifer Efforts to improve safety culture in chemical research laboratories generally focus on bench chemists, principle investigators, and laboratory managers. The backbone of these labs in both academic and industrial R&D, however, is frequently those working behind the scenes in positions such as storeroom managers or chemistry department “coordinators.” The professional organization for this group of people is the National Association of Scientific Materials Managers (NAOSMM). As I attend the organization’s annual meeting in Niagara Falls this week, I’m struck by how unpretentious the members are and how much of their jobs concern safety. People in these positions rarely have advanced degrees, and many worked their way to their current positions from other facets of the chemical enterprise. Nonetheless, they are often the primary problem solvers in their workplaces. Having attended more than a hundred national and regional meetings of various scientific groups over the past 40 years¸ I can say unequivocally that NAOSMM members are among the most active and dedicated people when it comes to encouraging safe laboratory operations. NAOSMM meeting programs are typically incredibly diverse and cover topics such as laboratory inspections, waste management, lab animal care, inventory management software, and, this week, the science behind wine making. The sessions are full, often with standing room-only crowds despite many concurrent sessions. The NAOSMM e-mail list also maintains a lively discussion on laboratory management and safety. As we work to improve laboratory safety across the wide horizon of academic and industrial R&D laboratories, I find it heartening to know that this group has the energy, desire, and means to work behind the scenes to encourage improvement in all aspects of laboratory...

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Have a fireworks-safe Fourth of July
Jun28

Have a fireworks-safe Fourth of July

If your area is similar to mine, the fireworks vendors will be out this weekend. “Between June 22, 2012 and July 22, 2012, more than 5,000 consumers were treated in hospital emergency rooms due to fireworks-related injuries,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. “More than half of these reported injuries involved burns to the hands, head and face. About 1,000 reported injuries involved sparklers and bottle rockets, fireworks that are frequently and incorrectly considered safe for young children.” CPSC has a nice graphic with a breakdown of fireworks injury statistics, and there’s a similar one at an attorney group’s blog. CPSC also produced this video a few years ago. It’s a bit of an orgy of ways to destroy mannequins, but it gets the point across. Here are CPSC’s safety tips for using fireworks: Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks. Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers. Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals. Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks. Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully. Never point or throw fireworks at another person. Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap. Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly. Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers. After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire. Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them. One of C&EN’s staff is a licensed pyrotechnician. She wrote a post a few years ago about how she handles safety at fireworks...

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Defining chemical safety, health, hygiene, and security
Mar27

Defining chemical safety, health, hygiene, and security

Last week, this question landed in my inbox: “What is the functional difference among chemical safety, chemical security, chemical health and chemical hygiene?” I assume that the person who e-mailed me is not the only one wondering about all those terms. Here are the definitions I put together with input from Larry Gibbs of Stanford University, Kimberly Jeskie of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Neal Langerman of Advanced Chemical Safety: Chemical safety is the application of the best practices for handling chemicals and chemistry processes to minimize risk, whether to a person, facility, or community. It involves understanding the physical, chemical, and toxicological hazards of chemicals. Chemical health is a subset of chemical safety that focuses on toxicology and health risks. Chemical hygiene is essentially the same as chemical safety. It is the collection of best practices used to minimize chemical exposure, whether to workers or the community. It is one part of occupational or industrial hygiene, which broadly focuses on controlling biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic, and psychosocial stressors to ensure the well-being of workers and the community. Chemical security involves preventing illegal or antisocial use of chemicals, often by restricting...

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A case study: Possible hydrogen fluoride exposure
Aug01

A case study: Possible hydrogen fluoride exposure

How would you have handled this situation? Three chemists in a small laboratory were moving some old chemicals to a staging area prior to disposal. Many of the chemicals were simply unopened expired reagents, while others had been previously opened and used. After perhaps a half hour of moving chemicals, one of the workers complained of a severe burning sensation on the palm of his hand. When he removed his latex glove, his hand had some minor swelling and redness but no outward sign of burning. His pain quickly became worse. A quick examination of the chemicals he had been handling showed that most were fairly innocuous, but one was a gallon container of waste labeled “HNO3, H2SO4, and HF.” The immediate suspicion was that some of the hydrofluoric acid had somehow leached out of the bottle or been spilled, depositing residues on the outside. The waste container was a glass bottle, and no HF has been used in this particular laboratory for approximately 20 years. Of the other chemicals the worker handled, the only one with known skin irritant properties was osmium tetroxide. There was no evidence to suggest significant exposure, since the OsO4 bottles were all contained in a box and had not been handled directly. So what to do? The decision was made to take a conservative approach and treat the hand with calcium gluconate. A tube of 2.5% gel was located fairly quickly. The gel was dated “1993” and had partially separated but appeared to still be viable. The hand was treated heavily with the gel, and a latex glove was then placed over the entire hand. This is all consistent with recommended practice for treating HF burns. The chemist’s pain persisted after treatment, so as a precaution he was taken to an emergency room about five minutes away. The first two medical professionals attending in the emergency room, a registered nurse and a physician’s assistant, were unfamiliar with HF. The workers didn’t bring a material safety data sheet because there was no way to to be sure of the source of the problem, since the suspect container was a mixture of acids. The physician who eventually arrived was well familiar with HF and the appropriate treatment. Since the hand had already been treated appropriately, she prescribed Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to treat possible allergic or sensitivity symptoms and sent the patient on his way. Later in the day, the chemist reported that the pain had subsided and he had no apparent ongoing effects. So… what might we have done...

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