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National Academy of Sciences lab safety culture committee meeting in Berkeley this week

Last month, the National Academy of Sciences kicked off a yearlong study of “Safety Culture in Academic Laboratories.” The project is supposed to focus not so much on what should be done to improve safety in academic labs, but on how to get people to actually do it. C&EN’s Jeff Johnson attended and reported on the first meeting of the committee, which is chaired by H. Holden Thorpe Thorp. Thorpe Thorp transitions at the end of this month from chancellor of the University of North Carolina to provost at Washington University in St. Louis.

The second Safety Culture committee meeting is this week, Wednesday and Thursday (June 26 and 27) at the University of California, Berkeley. The agenda is here. Since it’s local to me, I plan to attend, and I’m sure at least one blog post will result.

New lab safety video on personal protective equipment

Courtesy of University of California, San Diego, chemistry lecturer Haim Weizman, here is a new video on personal protective equipment–mostly lab coats, with a nod to eye protection.

So far, two complaints have cropped up on the Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list about the video. One is that it shows safety glasses rather than splash goggles. I agree that goggles would be a better choice, especially when part of the video shows a splash. Safety glasses are really just for impact protection.

The other complaint concerned “the low-cut tank top work by the lab worker.” I agree with this to some degree, because the lab coat doesn’t cover the top of the worker’s chest, either. On the other hand, how much protection would a crew-neck t-shirt really provide? And how much clothing policing is reasonable? UCSD started requiring lab coats in its undergraduate labs a few years ago precisely because it was difficult to enforce a dress code. “Our explanation of what was appropriate attire was a huge paragraph and had to be constantly changed” as fashions evolved, teaching labs safety coordinator Sheila Kennedy told me in 2010. If chest protection is such a concern that you might want people to take a ruler to their collarbones, then perhaps the answer lies in lab coat design rather than dress codes.

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past couple of weeks:

  • I normally ignore homemade chemical “bombs” of the dry ice or toilet cleaner variety, but I see headlines about them regularly. The CDC has noticed them, too, and discussed them in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report:

    Although unlikely to have the injury patterns associated with high-order explosive denotations, HCB explosions have the potential to result in serious injury. In addition to blast-induced trauma, injured persons can be exposed to the chemicals released from the HCB. The most common injuries reported were respiratory symptoms, burns, and skin irritation, and these are consistent with exposure to the acids or bases frequently used in these devices. Acid and base solutions are corrosive to skin and other tissues, and both form fumes that can irritate respiratory tissues when inhaled. Symptoms associated with inhalation of fumes of acids or bases include irritation of the nose, throat, and larynx; cough; and pulmonary edema (3).

  • Also, don’t dump liquid nitrogen into a pool
  • Via the Pump Handle, a story about a fatality I missed last summer when the round up was on hiatus: Brian Johns died from burns sustained when a seal failed on an ammonia recycling unit at a Dow Chemical plant in Texas (a former Rohm and Haas site). OSHA fined the company $23,000 for several process safety violations. Johns’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit  against Dow and his supervisors in April.
  • Texas to unveil database that will allow residents to view local facilities that hold hazardous materials. But how will the state ensure that the site is up-to-date and accurate?
  • The Helsinki Chemicals Forum “brought top international experts together to discuss on chemicals safety.” See videos and presentations.
  • The U.S. and Canada plan to align their hazard communication standards.
  • Mettler Toledo released a white paper on the ergonomics of pipetting. Repetitive strain injuries, be gone!

On the incident front, yesterday I posted about two fatal incidents in Louisiana.

Other fires and explosions:

  • An explosion at a fireworks factory in Montreal, Canada, killed two people
  • An alcohol fire severely burned two elementary school-aged students and injured another student and an instructor at a summer science camp in Louisiana; “The campers were conducting an experiment in which powdered sugar is converted to carbon, using alcohol as a heating source”
  • A fire in a raw material storage building at Pennsylvania titanium manufacturer Timet caused $3.5 million in damage
  • California’s University of Redlands got to call in hazmat and bomb squad teams to detonte old tert-butoxycarbonyl azide found during stockroom inventory. I’m rather confused by the juxtaposition of “manufactured in 1973″ and “in the university’s inventory for about six years.” First, how did it come to be there, 34 years after it was manufactured? And was the last inspection more than six years ago or did they just not care about a shock-sensitive material in previous inventories?
  • Homemade explosives found after New York apartment blast

Other leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • A sulfuric acid spill at smelter Doe Run in Missouri injured three workers
  • Leaking epoxy material at ChemCast in Illinois resulted in evacuations of a church daycare and nearby residents
  • A hydrochloric acid leak at a DuPont fluoroproduct plant in Kentucky led to a shelter-in-place order
  • A nitric acid spill at Appliance SpaceSystems in California sent two people to hospital and injured several others
  • Nitric acid also spilled at the University of Kentucky

Not covered (usually): meth labs; ammonia leaks; 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.

Fatal incidents at Louisiana’s CF Industries and Williams Cos. plants

I’ll save a full round-up for tomorrow, but I wanted to point to two fatal accidents last week in Louisiana that C&EN is following:

Williams Cos.

  • Explosion at 8:30 AM on Thursday, June 13, in Geismar, La., at an olefins plant that produces ethylene and propylene
  • Two people died: Zachary Green, 29, and Scott Thrower, 47; more than 75 others were injured
  • The root cause is still being investigated, but the fire was reportedly fed by propylene and propane; pipe corrosion resulted in a propylene leak in December, 2012
  • “The investigation will also have to take into account that the facility had racked up 12 straight quarters (three years) of noncompliance with federal Clean Air Act regulations and hadn’t been inspected by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in a decade.”
  • Despite the environmental compliance failings, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality had approved a $400 million plant expansion project that would increase ethylene capacity by 50%
  • The Chemical Safety Board is investigating
  • New Orleans Times-Picayune coverage, company information

CF Industries

  • Incident occurred at 6:00 PM on Friday, June 14, in Donaldsonville, La., at an ammonia plant
  • One person died: Ronald “Rocky” Morris Jr., 34; seven others were injured
  • “The incident involved the rupture of a nitrogen distribution header during the off-loading of nitrogen. There was no fire or chemical release”; the section of the plant involved was shut down for maintenance
  • “A worker who didn’t want to give his name said other workers were trying to replace a valve, and the pressure blew. Whoever was standing within a 15 to 20 foot radius, the concussion of that will hurt you really bad.’”
  • The complex is the largest nitrogen fertilizer production facility in North America
  • OSHA fined the ocmpany $150,000 in 2000 for a blast that killed three and injured eight additional workers
  • Company information

Proposed ACS undergrad guidelines increase safety requirements

This week’s issue of C&EN includes a story by Celia Arnaud about proposed changes to the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs, which are developed by the Committee on Professional Training. The issue also has a comment by committee leaders Anne B. McCoy of Ohio State University and Ron W. Darbeau of Louisiana’s McNeese State University.

Included in the changes are revisions to the safety requirements. Former committee leaders told me a few years ago that the last guidelines revision, completed in 2008, had more explicitly addressed safety than earlier versions, so the newly-proposed revisions take the criteria a step further.

Here’s what the requirements say now in the safety section:

7.3 Laboratory Safety Skills.
Approved programs should promote a safety-conscious culture in which students understand the concepts of safe laboratory practices and how to apply them. Programs should train students in the aspects of modern chemical safety appropriate to their educational level and scientific needs. A high degree of safety awareness should begin during the first laboratory course, and both classroom and laboratory discussions must stress safe practices. Students should understand responsible disposal techniques, understand and comply with safety regulations, understand and use material safety data sheets (MSDS), recognize and minimize potential chemical and physical hazards in the laboratory, and know how to handle laboratory emergencies effectively.

And here’s what’s proposed (overall, there’s a shift from “shoulds” to “musts”):

Section 7.3 Laboratory Safety Skills (p. 14-15)
Programs must train students in the aspects of modern chemical safety appropriate to their educational level and scientific needs. Approved programs must promote a safety-conscious culture in which students understand the concepts of safe laboratory practices and apply them.

  • Programs must train students in the aspects of modern chemical safety appropriate to their educational and scientific needs.
  • The promotion of safety awareness and skills must begin during the first laboratory experience and be incorporated into each lab experience thereafter. Classroom and laboratory discussions must stress safe practices. Students should be actively engaged in the evaluation and assessment of safety risks associated with laboratory experiences.
  • Safety understanding and skills should build throughout the curriculum and be assessed.
  • Students should
    • understand responsible disposal techniques
    • understand and comply with safety regulations
    • understand and use material safety data sheets (MSDS)
    • recognize and minimize potential chemical and physical hazards in the laboratory and know how to effectively handle laboratory emergencies.
  • Students must undergo general safety training as well as lab-specific training before beginning undergraduate research.
  • Approved programs must have an active, departmental safety committee.

What say you, readers? Are the proposed changes necessary or sufficient? What would you add or subtract?

From McCoy and Darbeau’s piece this week: “Please send comments to by Aug. 1 so they can be discussed at the next CPT meeting. The committee will also hold an extended open meeting on Sept. 8 at the ACS national meeting in Indianapolis that will focus on the guidelines revision. Details will be posted on the CPT website. CPT plans to publish the new guidelines in 2014.”

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past few weeks, starting with a couple of cases we’ve been following:

  • (Former?) Janssen chemist Ramineh Behbehanian will not face charges for planting tainted juice at a California Starbucks, because analysis showed only vinegar. Authorities originally thought she’d adulterated the juice with rubbing alcohol.
  • The family of San Francisco Veterans Affairs researcher Richard Din, who died in 2012 from a lab-contracted illness, has filed a wrongful death suit

And a tweet of the week, from C&EN’s Carmen Drahl at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, quoting Eli Lilly’s Brian Fahie:

Other news:

  • Chemjobber interviewed the Chemical Safety Board’s Mary Beth Mulcahy and posted about an Org. Process Res. Dev. paper on runaway reactions
  • Chembark found a video of a Major methane demo fail and started a collection of lab manuals
  • At in the Pipeline, Derek won’t work with dimethylcadmium:

    I’m saddened to report that the chemical literature contains descriptions of dimethylcadmium’s smell. Whoever provided these reports was surely exposed to far more of the vapor than common sense would allow, because common sense would tell you to stay about a half mile upwind at all times. At any rate, its odor is variously described as “foul”, “unpleasant”, “metallic”, “disagreeable”, and (wait for it) “characteristic”, which is an adjective that shows up often in the literature with regard to smells, and almost always makes a person want to punch whoever thought it was useful. We can assume that dimethylcadmium is not easily confused with beaujolais in the blindfolded sniff test, but not much more. So if you’re working with organocadmium derivatives and smell something nasty, but nasty in a new, exciting way that you’ve never quite smelled before, then you can probably assume the worst.

  • Allegheny College worked with local emergency responders on a chemical explosion drill
  • In the June issue of the Process Safety Beacon, Why can’t I open that valve? (Hint: There might be a good reason why you can’t.)
  • On June 25, BioRaft and the Laboratory Safety Institute are hosting a free webinar on How to create a more effective lab safety program
  • From the National Academy of Sciences, new Acute exposure guideline levels for selected airborne chemicals
  • In Room for Debate at the New York Times: Where OSHA falls short, and why
  • Also in the NYT, Where do old cellphones go to die?
  • And go check out Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities, a joint project by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity
  • From the Associated Press, Presence of explosive chemicals often kept secret: “Secrecy and shoddy record-keeping have kept the public and emergency workers in the dark about stockpiles of explosive material.”
  • Texas prohibits nearly 70 percent of its counties from having a fire code, reports the Dallas Morning News, and “85 percent of the code-prohibited counties have no full-time professional fire department anywhere in the county”
  • This takes some serious job dedication: For veteran LAPD diver, tar hunt far worse than sea hunt
  • And thankfully no one got hurt going through this: Collector’s bombs, shells, grenades confiscated
  • Coming soon to a computer near you: Chemical spillage simulation: “Double check your hazard suit, because you’re part of the Special Chemical Disaster Prevention unit, handling some of the most dangerous materials in the world that are both toxic and very deadly! You’ll need to seek out these materials using a selection of different tools to combat the spills before they cause any harm to any civilians.” Yes, really, it’s a computer game. Costs about $40 USD.

Fires and explosions:

  • An explosion and fire at a Teva plant in Israel, possibly from a reactor malfunction, killed one worker and injured 30 more. A year ago, an explosion and fire at Teva subsidiary Pliva in Croatia also killed one worker and injured eight others.
  • A flash fire at an Amgen facility in California seriously burned a hazardous waste contractor
  • An explosion at an Airgas plant in West Virginia burned two workers, “fifty cylinders of acetylene were believed to be the source of the explosion”
  • A hexachlorodislane leak and a spark led to an explosion and fire at Nova-Kem in Illiniois and the evacuation of the town of Seward. One worker was injured. Chlorine tanks at the facility “ended up spilling their load after a safety mechanism sensed the heat from the fire in another part of the building. That release of the chlorine is what prevented a more massive explosion.
  • A fire in an alcohol storage tank at California’s O’Neil Vintners and Distillery prompted the evacuation of a neighboring school (the story doesn’t say whether the alcohol was straight alcohol or a beverage of some sort)
  • “Phosphorous solid” was the source of a fire in a U.K. high school

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • The side of railroad tracks is not where you want to do chemistry: A train derailed in Baltimore, spilling sodium chlorate from one care and terephthalic acid from another, which reacted with each other
  • Two workers at a nuclear facility in Australia were exposed to sodium cyanide when “a container holding the chemical spilled on the workers’ legs.” The facility spokesman’s reported assertion that “They’re fine. They’ve been decontaminated. There’s no injuries.” seems a little optimistic, but I don’t know the quantity of the spill, what the workers were wearing, or how quickly NaCN absorbs through skin.
  • Boron trifluoride leaked at an Applied Materials/Varian Semiconductor complex in Massachusetts
  • One worker was exposed to diborane at a Ford Motor plant in Kentucky
  • Quaker Chemical in South Carolina released hydrofluoric acid
  • “Mild to medium-strength acids” spilled when a vial overpressurized and exploded in a University of New Orleans chemistry lab

Not covered (usually): meth labs; ammonia leaks; 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.

Lab safety video library

Several weeks ago, a request hit my inbox: Did I know of a library of lab safety videos? I didn’t. But it seemed like one would be a useful resource, so Russ and I set about putting one together. It’s just a spreadsheet, but hopefully it’ll be useful to some in the chemistry community:

Lab Safety Videos

A few notes:

  • Video descriptions are courtesy of Russ (thanks, Russ!)
  • We make no guarantees about quality
  • There are undoubtedly videos that we missed. If you know of one we should include, feel free to post it in the comments or
  • Likewise, if you or someone you know produces a new video, let us know to add it!

The spreadsheet is freely available to anyone who would like to use it, for whatever purpose. That includes making a prettier, more accessible version. Legendary chemistry librarian Dana Roth of Caltech, for example, has started a Safety Videos “LibGuide.”

I know, the Safety Zone has been very quiet of late. I was busy working on a cover story about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, plus a companion piece on oil dispersants. We’ll resume regular programming with a round up tomorrow.

Dow launches Lab Safety Academy website

Yesterday at the Council for Chemical Research meeting, Dow unveiled a publicly-accessible website with a comprehensive set of lab safety training videos plus additional resources. The website is at safety.dow.com. More details on the development of the site are in my C&EN story on the project. One tidbit that didn’t make it into the news story: While the video hosts are professional actors, the supporting roles are played by Dow scientists.