Another explosion at Texas Tech and a fire at UCLA
Oct25

Another explosion at Texas Tech and a fire at UCLA

A few days before the Chemical Safety Board report on Texas Tech University came out, TTU had another laboratory explosion of sorts in the chemistry department. This one didn’t involve energetic materials; rather, it centered on a waste bottle that contained dilute nitric acid, TTU Vice President for Research Taylor Eighmy said in a conference call for reporters last week. The nitric acid bottle was in a hood, next to a bottle of dilute acetic acid, and when the nitric acid bottle blew it cracked the base of the hood and sent glass shards and the waste solution into the lab, TTU said. The good news was that the lab was empty and no one was hurt. But someone could have been hurt because the hood sash was up–although I don’t know how high–and the glass and waste solution was therefore able to spread out into the lab, Eighmy said. So that’s lesson #1: Pull down hood sashes. Lesson #2 will likely involve what exactly was in the bottle with the nitric acid. TTU is still investigating that. But, as we saw last month at the University of Maryland and others have noted, nitric acid is a strong oxidizing agent and will react with organic compounds. Prudent Practices has this to say about it (page 138): Nitric acid is a strong acid, very corrosive, and decomposes to produce nitrogen oxides. The fumes are very irritating, and inhalation may cause pulmonary edema. Nitric acid is also a powerful oxidant and reacts violently, sometimes explosively [with] reducing agents (e.g., organic compounds) with liberation of toxic nitrogen oxides. Contact with organic matter must be avoided. Extreme caution must be taken when cleaning glassware contaminated with organic solvents or material with nitric acid. Toxic fumes of NOx are generated and explosion may occur. This week, there was a fire in a medical research lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Health Sciences. It was a small fire that was confined to one room and no one was injured, UCLA said. But nearly 150 fire fighters responded, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton told me in an e-mail that “a confirmed fire in a research lab in a multi-story building automatically generates a large response. The vast majority of the responding crews left shortly after they arrived.” UCLA is still investigating the cause of the fire. The Daily Bruin reported today that: Lab manager Erika Valore said she was not in the lab at the time but was told a person working there was boiling water in plastic tubes over a Bunsen burner. Valore said the person...

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Explosion at the University of Maryland
Sep29

Explosion at the University of Maryland

On Monday, an explosion occurred during an organic chemistry lab at the University of Maryland (UMD). The local fire department responded, reportedly sending “16 pieces of fire, EMS and Haz-Mat units and about 70 personnel” to the scene. Two students received first- and second-degree chemical burns and were taken to an area burn unit. UMD chemistry department chair Michael Doyle tells C&EN that: The evidence that I saw with the fire marshall was consistent with waste material (strong acids) being inappropriately added to an organic reagent bottle and not to a waste container. I believe that the lesson learned is the need to segregate reagents for a lab from the reagents being used. One of my colleagues notes that this is also a reason to be careful about reusing old reagent bottles as waste containers–current reagents and waste can be easily confused (although I don’t know if this was actually the situation at UMD). The fire department’s blog has more photos, although the post differs from Doyle on the cause of the...

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