Category → Miscellaneous
I’m late to the game on posting this, but this year CENtral Science is participating in the Donors Choose Science Blogging for Students campaign to help raise money for public school science resources. Naturally, we focused on chemistry-related projects, including one to provide lab coats to an AP Chemistry class in California. The campaign ends at midnight Eastern on Saturday, and right now you can get some extra bang for your buck–the DonorosChoose.org Board of Directors is matching donations made between now and the end of the drive.
And that’s it for me today–C&EN’s annual Advisory Board meeting was this week and we’ve got a staff meeting today before I fly home to California. The round-up will return next week. Have a great weekend, everyone!
I’m in Seattle this week at a U.S. Pharmacopeia meeting. In lieu of a mid-week Safety Zone post, please go check out all the posts collected for the “Your favorite reaction” blog carnival. I’m glad that I’m not judging them–I’d have a very hard time choosing!
Also, via @biochembelle and @geernst, here’s a Piled Higher & Deeper comic on fume hoods as “really expensive storage closet[s]“. If your hood looks like that, your charge for the week is to clean it up! Send me before and after photos and I’ll post them here to inspire others.
We’ll take a brief break from chemical safety today in order to participate in the “favorite reaction” blog carnival.
I first recall learning about the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction several years ago when I was working on a story about photos of chemical reactions on display at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It’s quite possible that I’d learned and forgotten about the BZ reaction before, but this time it stuck. We tend to think of reactions as proceeding to completion or reaching some sort of equilibrium, but they can also oscillate: In simplest form, the products of one reaction become the reactants of another that regenerates the original reactants.
The actual mechanisms of oscillating reactions can be quite complex, however. The classic BZ reaction involves potassium bromate, cerium(IV) sulfate, and propanedioic acid (aka malonic acid) in dilute sulfuric acid. Ten equations (shown) make up the overall reaction. The color changes are due to the oscillating oxidation state of cerium–Ce(IV) is yellow and Ce(III) is colorless. If ferroin is used in place of cerium, the color switches between blue and red. According to a Journal of Chemical Education article by Purdue University chemistry professor Arthur T. Winfree, Russian chemist Boris P. Belousov (1893-1970) first observed his namesake reaction when working in the Laboratory of Biophysics at the USSR Ministry of Health, but he couldn’t get it published. Moscow State University graduate student Anatol Zhabotinsky (1938-2008) followed up on and extended the work. Richard J. Field and Richard M. Noyes of the University of Oregon, along with Endre Körös of Hungary’s L. Eötvös University, published the mechanism in 1972.
Feedback loops along the lines of what happens in BZ or other oscillating reactions are common in biology. My college p-chem textbook tells me that oscillating reactions are the source of heartbeat rhythms, for example. Others point to the interplay of predator and prey populations. Seeing oscillations happen in real time in a dish or beaker is, for me, a lovely example of the wonder and power of chemistry.
Chemical health and safety news from the past week:
- As already discussed, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released its final report on the 2010 incidents at DuPont’s plant in Belle, W.Va.
- The Laboratory Safety Institute and Dow are teaming up to provide safety training scholarships to school teachers and develop “an online resource library for safety in school science and technology.” Applications for the training scholarships are due by Dec. 31.
- A profile of Albemarle’s Tyrone, Pa., plant described some of the positive measures the plant takes to promote safety, such as “an annual budget of $10,000 for $150 payments to employees nominated by co-workers for special attention to safety.” It also has my nomination for quote of the week: “‘There’s no cowboy crap around here,’ [Jay] Kisslak said.”
- Andrew Turley of Chemistry World blogged about a visit to an SAFC plant in Scotland–”First, there was lot of empty space. … Kenny, our host for the day, assured me that what we were seeing was entirely typical. The plentiful empty space, he told me, was there to lower the risk of people tripping over, bumping into things or otherwise getting into a tangle.”
- Imperial Oil agreed to pay $195,000 for using corrosion-prevention chemical (reportedly Nalco 7390) in pipes at higher concentrations than allowed and letting 3,000 L leak into the Mackenzie River in Canada’s Northwest Territories
- EPA fined Monson Companies $151,900 for improper storage of hazardous materials at “a warehouse, distribution, repackaging and custom blending chemical manufacturing facility” in Maine
- Is a clean-up of a U.S. Magnesium site in Utah getting nearer? Maybe, although it sounds like there’s still a lot of testing to be done, never mind having the company, EPA, and community agree on what, exactly, “clean up” means. The company harvests magnesium chloride from Great Salt Lake and “The contaminants that concern environmental regulators include dioxins, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), polychlorinated biphenyls and metals that have been linked to cancer or other dangerous health effects.”
- The end draws near for chemical weapons incineration in Anniston, Ala., after eight years of “flawless” burning of nerve agent and mustard munitions
Fires and explosions:
- A Chicago high school student lost sight in his left eye and suffered hearing lost from a pressure demo gone wrong: A teacher reportedly put dry ice and water in a plastic water bottle, sealed it, and passed it around the classroom. The bottle exploded in the hands of Dillon Mantia, 16. A lawsuit filed by his parents says that the students were not wearing safety goggles. Azmanan comments, “Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Honestly, what was this chemistry teacher thinking?”
- A gas cylinder may have exploded at a chemical operation in India, badly damaged buildings and started a fire; the incident killed a 17-year-old girl and injured 10 others
- A man mixing chemicals was burned on his back and arms when the mixture ignited at a factory in South Africa
- An explosion and fire killed two and injured four at a chemical supplies factory in Turkey
- Sulfur in an outdoor storage tank caught fire at a Rhodia plant in Illinois
Leaks, spills, and other exposures:
- Nitric acid, in a science lab at New Zealand’s Lincoln University; one staff member suffered acid burns to his face
- Butadiene and propylene from a Shell/Motiva plant in Louisiana
- Ethylene, at a Targa Resources storage and shipment center in Texas
- Acetone, at LM Wind Power in Arkansas
- Sodium cyanide, “about a quart,” at a jewelry shop in Missouri
Not covered: meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels
What’s your favorite chemical reaction? We at CENtral Science want to know, as part of a blog carnival in honor of the International Year of Chemistry.
What’s a blog carnival, you ask?
A blog carnival is a periodic collection of blog posts written loosely around a single theme that are then aggregated at the host blog. The beauty of the carnival is that we all can come together around our passion whether we’re part of a network or not. Big name bloggers and fledgling writers. Dogs and cats, sleeping together. Everyone is welcome at a blog carnival.
Maybe we can even bring together some bench researchers and EH&S staff.
If you want some inspiration, check out Humble but useful amides, The smell of it, The Crabbé reaction, and polymerization via Popcorn-stringing or Lion taming. (Rose jelly is also a great post on acid-base chemistry, but I don’t know if it’s meant for the carnival.)
If you’re not a regular blogger but have a reaction that you’d like to share, feel free to comment below or write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set you up. The best posts will have a chance at a spot in an issue of C&EN later this year. The deadline to submit entries is 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, September 26.
Outsourcing is a sore subject these days, with US jobs constantly being sent around the world to cheaper labor markets. Other jobs are contracted out to specialty companies, all in the name of improving the bottom line and reducing costs. While it would seem that safety-related jobs are safe, are they really?
A quick internet search revealed dozens of companies advertising outsourced safety training, inspecting, worker’s compensation management services, and compliance services.
One company advertises their “trained and certified safety supervisors provide cost savings and staffing flexibility while ensuring…compliance with safety regulations.” Other companies specialize in providing safety professionals for construction site project work; some are little more than temporary staffing agencies.
Does it make sense to trust your safety, either at an academic or industrial site, to outside contractors? Most of us have used outside trainers for specialty subjects such as first aid, fire safety, or HAZWOPER, but is this where you draw the line? It seems to me that familiarity with the site, its operations, and its employees are all important, and that this is difficult for temporary employees. There is also an issue as to where the loyalties of the outside contractor may lie. Would he or she provide the same level of detail, knowing the job is temporary? How important is good familiarity with equipment, processes, resources, and organizational policies and procedures? I’d think the time to get up to speed in these areas would be expensive, and would take valuable employee time to succeed. I think there are also liability issues, particularly in terms of regulatory compliance. What kind of guarantee can a company give that they will not make mistakes or omissions? Even considering the ability to sue in our litigious society, I think most organizations would prefer minimizing risk associated with outside contractors. What do you think?
My disclaimer: I serve part-time as EH&S Manager for a printing plant, working about 10-12 hours a week as an independent contractor. I’ve been working there for four years, and have been able to reduce their EH&S costs by 75% annually while also significantly reducing injuries. I replaced a full time EH&S Manager who contracted out most of the air & water permitting and compliance work I do for them. In other words, I believe you can outsource safety in certain settings.
Having spent many years working in a manufacturing laboratory that stocked about 10,000 chemicals, I have a deep appreciation for the unique smells associated with organic compounds. A recent odor discussion on the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list, in which a poster is attempting to locate and identify a particular “smelly socks” smell, has been fascinating.
It got me thinking, though, about how many different chemicals we’re potentially exposed to in a laboratory environment. Having spent more time recently in an industrial setting where respirators are commonly used, I wonder about the exposure hazards of chemical storerooms and open laboratories. Obviously, if you exceed the odor threshhold, you’re exposed to the particular chemical. And regardless of policies regarding the use of fumehoods for chemical handling, we’ve all experienced workplace odors and thus have all been exposed to low concentrations of a variety of assumably toxic compounds. Does the old saying, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” apply here? Most of the chemists I know are both generally healthy and typically long-lived. Is there anything to the theory that extremely low concentration chemical exposures help our immune systems? Obviously there is no magic number below which exposures are guaranteed safe. How do you feel about this? Why don’t we see more respirator use in chemical laboratory settings?
Yes, that would be Peeps as in the marshmallows, and this was too fun not to cross-post: As my colleague Linda Wang wrote today on our International Year of Chemistry blog, three chemists created a lab scene for the Washington Post’s fourth annual Peeps diorama contest. One of the creators, Kathryn Hughes, is a program officer at the National Academy of Sciences and worked on the update to Prudent Practices in the Laboratory, something that may explain why the Peeps are wearing lab coats and safety glasses, a gas cylinder is strapped to a bench, and there’s an eyewash station and fire extinguisher in the lab. Go take a look–and comment if you see any other safe lab features!
I’m out of time for the week, so we’ll have to forego a round-up today. In lieu of that, I’d encourage everyone to go and check out the photographs submitted for C&EN’s inaugural photo contest! We got a number of beautiful and varied submissions.
(Photo credit: Chemgeeks)
Via Liberal Arts Chemist, a BBC video of a nitroglycerine detonation in slow motion:
The clip is a preview of a BBC documentary, Explosions: How We Shook The World, that will air on Wednesday. Here’s another clip that uses an exploding soda bottle to explain how pressure waves cause the noise and damage of explosions. Seems like an interesting show!