CSB approves final report on West Fertilizer explosion
Feb02

CSB approves final report on West Fertilizer explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) on Jan. 28 approved its final report on the 2013 ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, that killed fifteen people and injured hundreds of others. CSB found that key factors that led to the severity of the accident were: Poor hazard awareness Proximity of the facility to nearby homes and businesses Inadequate emergency planning Limited regulatory oversight Here’s CSB’s video about the incident: CSB issued a total of 19 recommendations relating to the explosion, to the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, International Code Council (responsible for the International Fire Code), Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas Commission on Fire Protection, State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Services, Texas Department of Insurance, West Volunteer Fire Department, and El Dorado Chemical...

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Friday chemical safety round up
May03

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past couple of weeks. First up, on the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas: The Chemical Safety Board launched a Facebook page for its investigation into the West Fertilizer explosion Sustained Outrage posted about various familiar issues surrounding the disaster At a Texas House committee hearing, many agencies many agencies said “not my job” regarding lack of oversight and allowing large quantities of ammonium nitrate to be stored near a residential area And the Center for Public Integrity reported on concerns about the pace of CSB investigations Also: In honor of Workers’ Memorial Day, the National Council for Occupational Safety & Health released “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities” and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention devoted its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to worker concerns. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its final count of fatal work injuries in 2011: 4,693, “the third lowest annual total since the fatal injury census was first conducted in 1992.” That’s 3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. The Berkeley Science Review published a long article on the lab safety changes in the University of California system in the wake of Sheri Sangji’s death The May issue of the Process Safety Beacon looks at “Pressure relief valve bonnets–to plug or not to plug?“ A Florida high school student experimented with combinging aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a water bottle on campus before school. She subsequently was expelled from school and charged with possessing and discharging weapons and a destructive device on school grounds. Yes, gas pressure built up in the bottle so it exploded, but really, it seems ridiculous to expel a student for this. From all reports, she was just curious and didn’t intend to harm anyone. Janssen chemist Ramineh Behbehanian, on the other hand, perhaps did want to harm people by putting rubbing alcohol-contaminated orange juice onto the shelves of a San Jose, Calif., Starbucks. An alert customer saw her do it. Norway orders BP safety review after leak The Las Vegas Sun looked back at a 1988 explosion at ammonium perchlorate manufacturer Pacific Engineering Production Co. of Nevada that killed two people and injured more than 300 (C&EN archive story here, paywall-free link! coming), and explored what hazardous materials plants are in the area today And WSYR in New York looked back at a fire from a flame test demonstration that left a teacher and three students badly burned U.K. authorities fined SAFC Hitech $190,000 for a 2012 incident in which trimethylindium caught fire and badly burned one worker Fires and explosions: Three workers were killed in an...

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Ripped from the pages: More on the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas
Apr29

Ripped from the pages: More on the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas

Texas explosion facts emerge, report Glenn Hess and Jeff Johnson in C&EN this week, although much remains unknown: According to state and federal records, the retail facility stored some 270 tons of ammonium nitrate and 54,000 lb of anhydrous ammonia for sale to local farmers. … The facility appeared not to segregate ammonium nitrate, nor did it have automatic sprinkler systems, structural fire barricades, or other mechanisms to limit fires. Whether first responders were aware of what was in the warehouse and its potential for explosion is unknown. … Ammonium nitrate storage and use are controlled by state and federal regulations. However, it appears that West Fertilizer’s reports to regulators held conflicting information about what materials and quantities were stored, so this small retail distribution facility may not have triggered regulators’ notice. … Meanwhile, C&EN Deputy Editor-in-Chief Josh Fischman writes in an editorial about a 1947 ammonium nitrate explosion in Texas that killed nearly 600 people, including 27 firefighters, and destroyed 500 homes: On Oct. 20, 1947, C&EN reported that an expert at the President’s Conference on Fire Prevention said the disaster could have been prevented if “reasonable safety rules had been observed.” Apparently that hasn’t happened. There’s also been a West-related dust-up in California. Earlier this year, Texas Governor Rick Perry launched an ad campaign in California and visited the state to try to woo businesses “with promises of low taxes, loose regulations and a hard stance on organized labor,” reported the Los Angeles Times in February. Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman subsequently responded to the West Fertilizer explosion with this cartoon. Perry responded that the cartoon inappropriately “mock[ed] the tragic deaths of my fellow Texans and our fellow Americans.” What say you, Safety Zone readers? Was the cartoon appropriately provoking or...

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Friday chemical safety round up
Apr19

Friday chemical safety round up

First up, our thoughts are with everyone in the Boston and West, Texas, areas today. Secondly, on the fertilizer explosion in West: Although early reports all said that the incident involved anhydrous ammonia, C&EN’s Jeff Johnson reported yesterday that ammonium nitrate was likely the explosive material at West Fertilizer Co. Today, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times both say the facility had ammonium nitrate. The NYT gives numbers: “540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate on the site and 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.” The current toll is 12 confirmed dead, 60 missing, more than 200 injured, and many left homeless. I’m curious whether zoning laws actually allowed that amount of hazardous material so close to a residential area, two schools, and a nursing home. For local coverage, see the Waco Tribune and Dallas Morning News. Now on to other news from the past few weeks, skipping incidents and focusing other things that I’ve collected: Mark at Chemistry Blog posted about his grandfather’s chemical legacy: A day later I had sorted everything out into three categories: Category 1, mostly harmless (salts, some buffers etc). Category 2, most definitely not harmless (concentrated acids and such like). And the third category I called “What the f*** has he got here!” In the Pipeline posted a video, “made at some point by some French lunatics,” that nicely illustrates the hazards of working with chlorine trifluoride A debate on whether chemistry demos overly rely on explosions emerged on Twitter; ChemistryWorld gathered the tweets at Storify while Philosophically Distrubed blogged that “chemistry explosions are all bang and no buck“ It’s been a while since I’ve said this, but it’s worth a reminder: Students and postdocs, be aware that you may not be eligible for workers’ compensation if you’re injured in a lab (reminder courtesy of this story about injured student athletes being responsible for their health expenses) NOAA released updated Chemical Reactivity Worksheet software Accounts of Chemical Research published a special issue on Environmental Health & Safety Considerations for Nanotechnology As OSHA emphasizes safety, long-term health risks fester says the New York Times, in a piece that looks at exposure of furniture workers and n-propylbromide-containing glues The Pump Handle covered worker safety provisions in the Senate immigration reform bill The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board says that the Hanford nuclear waste treatment plant “has design problems that could lead to chemical explosions, inadvertent nuclear reactions and mechanical breakdowns“ The April issue of the AIChE’s Process Safety Beacon is out: Have you heard a pressure relief valve chatter? The National Academy of Sciences published a review of the Department of Labor’s Site Exposure Matrix Database,...

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