UC Center for Laboratory Safety is investigating U Hawaii explosion
Apr12

UC Center for Laboratory Safety is investigating U Hawaii explosion

The University of Hawaii, Manoa, announced last week that the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety is investigating the March 16 explosion that caused UH postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward to lose an arm. "The UC Laboratory Safety Team was on the Manoa campus the week of March 28 and the investigation is expected to be complete by the end of April," the UH announcement said. "All preliminary indications are that the accident was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem at Mānoa or intentional wrongdoing," said UH Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman in the statement. The UC Center for Laboratory Safety was established at UC Los Angeles in 2011, two years after UCLA researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died from injuries sustained in a laboratory fire. The goals of the center are to support research, communication, and training programs in lab safety, according to its website. The UH investigation is the first one that the center has conducted, confirmed Craig Merlic, executive director of the center and an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA. The investigation team members are: Merlic Imke Schroeder, research project manager of the UC Center for Laboratory Safety and adjunct associate professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA Kenneth Smith, board member of the UC Center for Laboratory Safety and executive director of environment, health and safety at the UC Office of the President Eugene Ngai, president of Chemically Speaking, a specialty gas consulting company The center "has extensive experience in laboratory safety and the investigating team will give the University of Hawaii advice on their safety programs related to this incident in addition to determining the root cause of the incident," Merlic told C&EN. "We spent three days at the University of Hawaii and are following up on several lines of investigation." UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl declined to say how much UH is paying for the investigation. The Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division is also investigating the incident and Ekins-Coward is receiving workers’ compensation benefits, C&EN reported two weeks ago. Other coverage: Chemjobber - The Institution speaks for itself and investigates itself Science - Two investigations underway into University of Hawaii lab...

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Researcher loses an arm from lab explosion at the University of Hawaii
Mar22

Researcher loses an arm from lab explosion at the University of Hawaii

My story at C&EN: Explosion at the University of Hawaii seriously injures researcher: A 29-year-old researcher was seriously injured in a lab explosion at the University of Hawaii, Mānoa, on March 16. The researcher is Thea Ekins-Coward, and she lost an arm and suffered other injuries, according to local media reports. When C&EN inquired about her condition on March 20, Queen’s Medical Center, the facility where she is hospitalized, declined to release any information. Ekins-Coward is listed as a postdoctoral researcher in the alternative fuels group at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), which is a research unit within the university. The university has not confirmed that Ekins-Coward was the person injured. The lab in which the explosion happened was operated by HNEI and focuses on renewable energy and degradable bioplastics, said Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, during a March 17 news conference. At the time of the incident, the researcher who was injured was combining hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen gases from high-pressure cylinders into a lower pressure container. The mixture was to be used as a feedstock to grow cells. “Since 2008, when the project began, the process has been used almost daily and without incident,” Taylor said. ... Thea Ekins-Coward's spouse appears to be Amy Ekins-Coward, who posted on LinkedIn in January: My life doesn't look how I imagined: Diary of a trailing spouse (part seven). It illustrates how vulnerable postdocs and their families can be: I know that to the outside looking in, moving to Hawaii is no hardship. But feeling like you have no control over your own life, like you've built no nest egg, can be no small burden. Not knowing whether come July we'll be here, or heading home, or trying to find something else, can be draining – even depressing. Who knows whether all those hopes listed above will all come to fruition, but at least having those in mind means that when I look in the mirror and think "god that hair" or envy someone else's stability, shiny new car, shiny new dog, I can keep on keeping on that little bit...

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EPA to require chemical companies to consider inherently safer technologies
Mar02

EPA to require chemical companies to consider inherently safer technologies

"Chemical companies and refineries would have to consider inherently safer technologies and, in some cases, undergo third-party, independent safety audits under a new Environmental Protection Agency proposal," writes Jeff Johnson at C&EN this week. EPA’s proposal would, for the first time, require a subsection of companies, including refiners and chemical makers, to consider using alternative, safer technologies as they regularly update their [risk management plans], which is required at least every five years. Consideration is all that would be required; implementation of safer technologies would not be, stresses Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator for land and emergency management. EPA would have access to a company’s assessment of safer technologies but the public would not, Stanislaus tells C&EN. ... Also, the proposal would require companies that have chemical accidents to hire an independent third party to conduct compulsory safety audits, rather doing these audits themselves, as they do now, says Stanislaus. And after an accident or a near-miss incident, companies would have to conduct root-cause analyses and prepare incident reports for EPA. The story notes that EPA's proposal comes out of a re-examination of EPA regulations ordered by President Barack Obama following a 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion at West Fertilizer that killed 15 people. But facilites such as West won't be covered by the regulation because EPA is not adding ammonium nitrate to its risk management plan...

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No matter how much you need to pee…
Feb12

No matter how much you need to pee…

Don't do this (from an 1850 report in a medical journal): A bottle in which some potassium had been kept in naphtha, and which had been used up in experiments, was standing in his room; and wishing to urinate without leaving his room, he pulled out the glass stopper and applied his penis to its mouth. The first jet of urine was followed by an explosive sound and flash of fire, and quick as thought the penis was drawn into the bottle with a force and tenacity which held it as firmly as if in a vice. The burning of the potassium created a vacuum instantaneously, and the soft yielding tissue of the penis effectually excluding the air, the bottle acted like a huge cupping glass to this novel portion of the system. The small size of the mouth of the bottle compressed the veins, while the arteries continued to pour their blood into the glans, prepuce, etc. From this cause, and the rarefied air in the bottle, the parts swelled and puffed up to an enormous size. You can thank @thomasngmorris for finding and sharing the report and @saraheverts for alerting me to...

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Overheated nitrocellulose ignited to set off Tianjin explosion
Feb09

Overheated nitrocellulose ignited to set off Tianjin explosion

Chinese officials released on Feb. 5 a report into a 2015 explosion at a hazardous materials warehouse in Tianjin that killed 165 people. C&EN's Jean-François Tremblay reports: The immediate cause of the accident was the spontaneous ignition of overly dry nitrocellulose stored in a container that overheated, according to the report, issued on Feb. 5. Wetting agents inside the container had evaporated in the summer heat, investigators found. Flames from that initial fire reached nearby ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which exploded. ... Investigators found that Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics, the operator of the warehouse, illegally stored hazardous materials and that its “safety management procedures were inept.” It also assigned varying degrees of blame to 74 government officials from agencies at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Some officials, investigators found, were guilty of “taking bribes and abusing power.” To prevent a similar catastrophe, investigators issued a list of recommendations, including the creation of a national system for monitoring hazardous chemicals storage. They also recommended that firefighters be better equipped. First responders accounted for 110 of the...

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Culture of compliance versus culture of safety
Feb04

Culture of compliance versus culture of safety

Quote fom a New York Times story about the collapse of a construction waste dump in China that killed at least 69 people. How many U.S. workplaces does it also describe? “It’s quite often that the goal is to get approval, rather than be truly in compliance with the spirit, whether it’s the environmental impact assessment or safety,” said Dali L. Yang, a professor at the University of Chicago who has studied China’s efforts to strengthen safety regulation. “They think, ‘I can get away with this, so why bother?’...

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