↓ Expand ↓

Archive → Author

Friday chemical safety round up

I’ll be in Yolo County again today for the end of former University of California, Davis, chemist David Snyder’s preliminary hearing on explosives and firearms charges. Watch Twitter for updates and here on Monday for a recap.

Here’s the chemical health and safety news from the past few weeks:

  • The ACS Committee on Chemical Safety released its guidelines on Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories
  • A planned ACS webinar on chemical safety was cancelled because the federal government shutdown put CSB investigator Mary Beth Mulcahy on furlough. The shutdown will delay CSB investigations, such as that into the West, Tex., fertilizer explosion. More than 90% of OSHA inspectors are also furloughed. For more on shutdown effects, see C&EN’s story by Andrea Widener.
  • University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick Harran had a court date on Thursday regarding felony charges of labor code violations stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji. The status check with the judge resulted in scheduling of another status check for Nov. 20. Let us pause here to thank C&EN’s Michael Torrice for doing the yeoman’s work of attending all these court appearances, even when they last all of 40 seconds.
  • Harran “should not be made out to carry the full weight of the accident,” wrote an opinion columnist in the University of Southern California’s Daily Trojan, seemingly missing the fact that the University of California system faced (and settled) charges as well
  • My lab makes me sick, wrote Butler University chemistry professor LuAnne McNulty, whose asthma is triggered by volatile organic compounds. She described her use of Skype to get around the problem of trying to mentor students when she can’t enter the lab.
  • John at It’s the Rheo Thing really got decked out in PPE, complete with a self-rescue respirator
  • Improving respirator masks to put fresh air in reach (how has it taken me until now to learn that there is a National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory? Must arrange to visit sometime. When it’s open again.)
  • The October issue of AIChE’s Process Safety Beacon looks at electrical equipment in hazardous areas
  • In California, the Air Force wants to transfer a radioactive waste dump to Sacramento: “Mayer’s attitude about state and local officials, and his insistence that the Air Force can bulldoze ahead despite the state’s strict environmental laws, highlights an escalating clash between military officials and local communities over the plight of former bases now being converted for civilian use.”
  • The estimate for a proposed uranium processing facility in Tennessee has gone from $600 million to as much as $11.6 billion
  • In Southern California, battery recycler Exide continued to violate lead emissions limits, despite being forced to cut back
  • OSHA fined aerosol paint manufacturer Fox Valley Systems $262,000 following a March explosion that seriously injured three employees: “Flammable vapors ignited in the production facility, resulting in an explosion and fire that caused extensive damage to the building and the interconnected aerosol-propellant charging rooms” and locked doors impeded exit routes and snow blocked exits, slowing employees from exiting the plant quickly”"
  • Federal agencies issued a federal advisory on ammonium nitrate
  • EPA withdrew two proposals on chemical safety: adding bisphenol A, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and eight phthalates on a “chemicals of concern” list and barring chemical makers from claiming chemical identity as confidential business information in EPA submissions
  • Chemical disarmament in Syria won’t be easy, writes the New York Times, looking at how difficult it’s been to destroy chemical weapons in the United States: “Everybody forgets that none of these weapons were designed to be peacefully disassembled,” Miguel E. Monteverde, an Army spokesman, noted in an interview. “It was always assumed that they’d be used.”
  • The Dow Lab Safety Academy won the 2013 Chemical Engineering & ChemInnovations Award

Fires and explosions:

  • An explosion in the hydrogen unit at a Sinclair refinery in Wyoming resulted in a large fire but no injuries
  • Several guests at a San Francisco hotel were taken to the hospital after an employee set off a canister of bear repellent (pepper spray, Wikipedia tells me)
  • A hydrogen tank “detonated and crashed through a building ceiling twice, once on launch and once on landing” at Utron in Virginia; Utron’s website says it’s a defense contractor with “an exemplary history of researching and developing high-energy innovations for launching masses at hyper velocities”
  • Five workers were injured in a fire at a Formosa Plastics plant in Texas
  • Molten steel + three containers of a “petroleum-based product” = a fire at Keokuk Steel Castings in Iowa
  • Carbon disulfide caught fire at Vanderbilt Chemical when its temperature exceeded its ignition point; an automatic fire-suppression system helped to contain the problem
  • A fire engulfed a Danlin chemical plant in Oklahoma, mostly burning methanol
  • Two students and a teacher at a Texas middle school were injured from an experiment involving strontium chloride, methanol, and a stick lighter (once again I must ask what is it with teachers, alcohol, and flames?)

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • For the “anything is toxic given the right circumstances” file: Massive molasses spill devastates Honolulu marine life
  • Ammonia leaks: from a transfer line at Airgas in Mississippi; at a John Deere engineering center in Iowa; from somewhere in Rhode Island during a “routine” installation of a canister; from a Green Giant Fresh Factory in California
  • Aniline was released at a Rubicon plant in Louisiana
  • Some sort of liquid including “‘trace amounts’ of benzene, benzene compounds and sulfuric acid” was released at a DuPont facility in Texas
  • Sulfur dioxide leaked at a shuttered Convoy Containers facility in Ohio
  • “A 55-gallon drum of overheated epoxy blew open at a fiberglass supplies business” in San Diego, the heat was due to a reaction with something else
  • A University of Washington lab tech suffered burns on his arm when he was reportely moving a two-leater container of hydrochloric acid from a cabinet anda the bottom fell out of the container; he smartly got himself to a safety shower
  • Glacial acetic acid spilled at a medical center in California, sending one person for medical evaluation
  • Six people were injured at a Texas high school when a canister for an emergency oxygen generator broke and sprayed them with a chemical mixture “comparable to a liquified soda ash material” (anyone know how these things work?)
  • Spilled formaldehyde resulted in the evacuation of 1,800 students from a different high school in Texas

Not covered (usually): meth labs; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; things that happen at recycling centers (dispose of your waste properly, people!); and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels

Nanotechnology: Small science can come with big safety risks

Contributed by Dow Lab Safety Academy

Many scientists these days are excited about nanomaterials research, and with good reason. The novel properties of these ultra-small materials can lead to new and exceptional applications in various industries, such as targeted drug delivery in the pharmaceutical industry.

But while there’s an infinite world of “small” discoveries waiting for talented and interested people, there are also health and safety challenges that are unique to working with nanomaterials. The properties that make nanomaterials desirable can also change their potential hazards.

For example, materials at the nanoscale can have altered uptake and distribution within the human body. This means that they could be absorbed by the body faster, resulting in greater exposure, and they may travel to internal organs that were not previously accessible to the larger scale of the same material.

Here are some best practices for working safely with nanomaterials.

  • Be cautious when reviewing hazard information. Question any health hazard information provided for bulk material. Hazards listed on safety data sheets may or may not be the same for small, ultrafine particles.
  • Assess potential exposure when planning your research. Conduct qualitative exposure assessments for various aspects of the project. Define which tasks may potentially expose workers to nanomaterials, the dustiness of the material, how it will be used, how much will be used, and the duration and frequency of the task.
  • Keep materials off your body and out of the air. Ensure that nanomaterials remain off your skin and out of your lungs and eyes. Ventilation systems capture and remove airborne nanomaterials before they are inhaled by workers. A fume hood is an excellent choice. For larger scale operations, use ventilated enclosures, local exhaust ventilation, or other types of ventilation.
  • Know when to opt for added protection. A fume hood, goggles, lab coat, and polymeric gloves are sufficient for most small-scale research. However, for larger scale operations, using respiratory protection with a P-100 filter and disposable suits is recommended.

For more on this topic, watch the Nanoparticle Safety video in the Specialized Topics module at the Dow Lab Safety Academy. The Dow Lab Safety Academy is a free digital learning environment that seeks to enhance awareness of safety practices in research laboratories.

And to learn a bit about nanoparticle characterization, see a recent story by C&EN’s Lauren Wolf, Federal Lab Helps Clients Move Prospective Nanomedicines Into Clinical Trials.

Disclaimer: See Dow’s Terms of Use at http://www.dow.com/homepage/term.htm.

When is an explosion really an explosion, take two

A few weeks back, we had a letter to the editor in C&EN that took us to task for using “blast” and “explosion” to describe two industrial incidents. We have more in this week’s issue (which, I might add, is a particularly awesome one in celebration of C&EN’s 90th anniversary). The consensus? The rupture of a nitrogen line is a mechanical explosion, and C&EN used the words appropriately. Here’s what our readers said:

Regarding Richard Rosera’s letter “Choosing the Right Words,” explosion is the correct term (C&EN, Aug. 5, page 4). The definition of the word explosion is the rapid expansion of a gas.

To quote Rosera, the case at hand was “caused by the rupture of a nitrogen line or vessel by overpressure.”

Rob Kovacich
Hood River, Ore.

Recalling my years dealing with hazard evaluation led me to question Rosera’s letter. An explosion is defined as the rapid increase in volume and release of energy in an extreme manner. Or, as Frank T. Bodurtha explains in his book “Industrial Explosion Prevention and Protection,” “an explosion is the result, not the cause, of a rapid expansion of gases. It may occur from physical or mechanical change.”

Thus, the rupture of a nitrogen line or vessel does indeed result in an explosion, as does the rupture of an overfilled tire.

Robert G. Robinson
Lawrenceville, N.J.

As a chemistry educator and professional pyrotechnician, I answer myriad questions regarding explosions. If the term explosion is used to refer to “the rupture of a nitrogen line or vessel by overpressure,” it is more specifically a mechanical explosion, but it’s an explosion nonetheless.

The criticism leveled by Rosera is unwarranted. Both the mainstream press and C&EN are correct in addressing the CF Industries accident as an explosion. Although physical failure of materials containment may be due to either chemical or mechanical reasons, the result is still an explosion.

Kathleen Holley
Arlington, Texas

At the time of the original news story, the cause of the explosion at a Williams C. ethylene plant in Geismar, La., was unknown. A July 31 story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune indicates that it was still unknown by that time. I can’t find anything more recent, but the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board is investigating it, so we’ll have an answer eventually. The incident killed two workers.

Hearing postponed for #DavidSnyder in UC Davis explosives case

The preliminary hearing for former University of California, Davis, chemist David Snyder on explosives and weapons charges was scheduled to continue today in Yolo County Superior Court. Snyder’s defense attorney is recovering from surgery, so the hearing was postponed to Oct. 4.

Friday chemical safety round up

I’ll be in Yolo County Superior Court today for the continuation of former University of California, Davis, chemist David Snyder’s preliminary hearing on explosives and firearms charges. In the meantime, here’s your chemical health and safety news for the last couple of weeks:

  • First, a tweet that made me laugh, in response to info on small-sized, flame-resistant lab coats:
  • Derek added mercury azides to things he won’t work with: “Explosions are definitely underappreciated as a mixing technique, but in this case, they are keeping you from forming any larger crystals, a development which the paper says, with feeling, ‘should be avoided by all means.’” The comments on that post led me to this lovely little video:


  • In the September issue of AIChE’s Process Safety Beacon: (Compressed) air can kill
  • OSHA proposed a rule to reduce workplace exposure to crystalline silica
  • A Dallas Morning News investigation finds that “even the best national data on chemical accidents is wrong nine times out of 10“

Fires and explosions:

  • Chemicals for plating and painting caught fire at Standard Pressed Steel Technologies in Pennsylvania, the fire may have been sparked by static electricity

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • Ammonia: Leaked from a refrigeration unit at a cold storage plant in China killed 15 people and injured 25 more; Discharged into a river from a Hubei Shanghuan Science & Technology Co. plant in China killed thousands of fish; other leaks occurred at a fertilizer plant in Texas, a Bayer CropScience facility in Missouri, a Saputo Cheese factory in California, a Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas, a Leprino Foods mozzarella cheese plant in New Mexico, in the ice rink cooling system of SUNY Potsdam,
  • Sulfur dioxide leaked from a Marathon Refinery in Texas
  • Approximately 950 labs of nitric acid leaked at a Catalyst Refiners plant in West Virginia
  • Methyl acrylate leaked from a Stolthaven plant in Louisiana
  • Formaldehyde was released from an Elgin plant in Illinois after an injection molding machine overheated, nine people were hospitalized
  • Phthalic anhydride was released from a BASF plant in Ontario, Canada
  • Sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide were released from a Solvay Rodia facility in Louisiana
  • Sulfuric acid leaked from a punctured 55-gal barrel at Idaho National Laboratory
  • Dry ice + hot water = 33 Simmons Foods employees taken to the local hospital in Arkansas
  • A couple of liters of hydrochloric acid spilled at the University of Central Florida

Not covered (usually): meth labs; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; things that happen at recycling centers (dispose of your waste properly, people!); and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels

Chemical and laboratory safety at #ACSIndy

CHAS-ACSIndyThe 246th ACS National Meeting starts on Sunday, so it’s time to highlight the chemical and laboratory safety programming. If you’re heading to the meeting, be sure to take along the Division of Chemical Health & Safety‘s handy CHAS-at-a-Glance.


  • Division of Chemical Health & Safety Executive Committee breakfast meeting, open to ACS members; 8:30 am-noon, Convention Center room 142
  • Division of Chemical Health & Safety Awards; 1:30-2:40 pm, Convention Center room 115
  • New Horizons in Chemical Health and Safety; 2:50-6:40 pm, Convention Center room 115


  • Committee on Chemical Safety combined open meeting and executive session; 8:30-11:30 am, JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 3; agenda is here
  • Managing Reactive Chemistry; 1:00-5:40 pm, Convention Center Wabash Ballroom 2
  • Air Monitoring; 1:30-5:25 pm, Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station room Penn Station B
  • Social Hour; 5:30-7:30 pm, Skyline Club, 36th Floor, One American Square


  • Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories; 9:00 am-noon, 1:30-4:45 pm, Convention Center room 141. This symposium includes introduction of a new ACS publication on hazard analysis.


  • Air Monitoring poster session (6:00-8:00 pm, Convention Center Halls F&G)

You can chat with Division of Chemical Health & Safety or Committee on Chemical Safety representatives and see what resources they have at booth 523 in the Exhibition Hall. You can also follow the division at its @acsdchas and @labsustain twitter feeds.

UC expands its lab safety program

In this week’s issue of C&EN, I have a story on how the University of California is implementing and expanding upon the lab safety settlement agreement that UC made with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office last summer. In short, UC is taking the legal mandates for chemistry and biochemistry departments and expanding them to all research and teaching laboratories as well as to technical areas such as store and stock rooms. Go read the story for details.

Included with the story is a list of links to things such as UC’s new online “Laboratory Safety Fundamentals” training program, UCLA’s personal protective equipment (PPE) inspection checklist, and the system’s new policies on training, PPE, and minors in labs. As part of reporting on the story, I went through the safety fundamentals training and scored 19/20 on the test at the end. If readers are inclined to do the same, be warned that it will take about three hours, at least if you click through the various bits to get additional information.

UC also purchased personal protective equipment for researchers, including 115,000 lab coats. Part of that purchase involved special-ordering flame-resistant, NFPA 2112-rated lab coats from Workrite in small sizes tailored for women. I don’t see them available now on the company’s website, but clearly it at least has patterns. I don’t know whether Workrite is willing to make more, but it’s probably worth a call if you’re looking for some.

National Academy of Sciences lab safety culture committee meeting in Boston tomorrow

The National Academy of Sciences committee on “Safety Culture in Academic Laboratories” meets starting tomorrow in Boston. The committee has previously met in Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, Calif.

Speakers for the open part of the meeting include Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemistry professor and safety committee chair Rick L. Danheiser. I spoke with Danheiser about MIT’s safety program for “Learning from UCLA.” Also on the agenda is William B. Tolman, chair of the chemistry department at the University of Minnesota and one of the people involved in Dow’s academic lab safety partnerships. And then there’s Susan S. Silbey, who is head of anthropology at MIT and studies “the creation of management systems for containing risks, including ethical lapses, as well as environment, health and safety hazards.”

I can’t attend the meeting, but if anyone else who does would like to recap it for the Safety Zone, please let me know!