↓ Expand ↓

Category → In the News

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

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past three weeks.

  • #SciConfessions took off on Twitter. Here’s a Storify that includes a few of my favorites, and PhD comics weighed in as well:
  • ChemBark found an amazing video of a traffic accident that ruptured gas cylinders
  • Chemjobber wrote about Person-to-Person: A better approach to developing academic chemical safety culture?
  • A new month brings a new issue of the Process Safety Beacon, this time on focusing on exploding water pumps
  • NIOSH announced a new robotic manikin headform for respirator fit research
  • OSHA and NIOSH issued a hazard alert on 1-bromopropane: “The hazard alert was issued in response to information on the increased use of 1-BP as a substitute for other solvents as well as recent reports of overexposure in furniture manufacturing.” (More at the NIOSH Science Blog.)
  • Obama ordered a review of chemical plant rules
  • CSB called out OSHA “for failing to implement several of the board’s long-standing recommendations for making refineries, chemical facilities, and sugar plants safer. Discussion elsewhere: The Pump Handle, Sustained Outrage
  • Meanwhile, EPA’s Office of Inspector General criticized CSB’s backlog of unfinished investigations
  • The city of Richmond, Calif., sued Chevron over a refinery fire last year, “accusing officials of placing profits and executive pay over public safety”
  • ‘We’ve just been lucky’ with urban chemical disasters
  • Farmworkers called for increased protection from pesticides
  • Explosion and chemical hazards persist at Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plants; OSHA announced $170,000 in proposed penalties for violations at an Arkansas plant
  • A California judge ordered the state to (finally) set a drinking water standard for chromium(VI). I wrote a couple of years ago about testing and treating water for chromium(VI).
  • Photos from inside Germany’s nuclear power plants, which are all slated to close by 2022
  • And lest people think it’s only in California that people experiment with explosives in their homes, there’s a house in Ipswich, Australia, keeping bomb squads busy

I’m skipping incidents. Scanning headlines, most of the explosions and fires involved fuels and others weren’t obviously chemical in origin.

Preliminary hearing started for #DavidSnyder in UC Davis explosives case

Former University of California, Davis, chemist David Snyder appeared in court on Friday to begin his preliminary hearing on 17 felony charges relating to a January explosion in Synder’s campus apartment.

The charges are for reckless disposal of hazardous waste, possession of a destructive device or explosive, possession of materials with intent to make a destructive device, and possession of firearms on university property. Snyder was released from jail in February on $2 million bail. Snyder was working as a postdoc at the time of the explosion; he’d received his Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Davis in 2011.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for a judge to rule on whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial. Deputy district attorney Martha Holzapfel called eight witnesses:

  • Joanne Zekany, UC Davis police detective
  • Lee Benson, City of Davis police officer
  • Scott Allen, City of Davis police officer
  • Paul Henoch, UC Davis police sergeant
  • Kevin Skaife, UC Davis police detective
  • Daniel Powell, City of Davis police sergeant and member of the Yolo County bomb squad
  • Brian Parker, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives special agent
  • Jason Winger, West Sacramento police sergeant and member of the Yolo County bomb squad

The court got through direct testimony of all eight witnesses on Friday. The judge scheduled the hearing to resume with cross-examination of Jason Winger on Friday, September 6.
Continue reading →

Friday chemical safety round up

The Safety Zone will be quiet the next couple of weeks while I’m on vacation. I’ll be back to attend David Snyder’s preliminary hearing in the UC Davis explosives case on July 26th.

But first, chemical health and safety news from the past week:

  • The Long Chain of Responsibility Behind an Oily and Deadly Train Wreck: “as long as we depend heavily on oil, we all ‘own’ a portion of every disaster related to oil extraction, transport or use.”
  • Also on the Quebec derailment, the rail tankers involved reportedly have a history of puncturing in accidents and are a staple of the American freight rail fleet
  • Safety boards get unequal access, on NTSB vs CSB: ”Contrast the transparency [in the San Francisco plane crash] with the murky investigation into the April 17 explosion in West.”
  • Regarding the Sheri Sangji case, “I teach graduate students who are about the same age. And they may be talented, smart, driven, capable. But we call them ‘students’ for a reason. They are early in their careers and it’s our job to both help them gain experience and to help keep them safe while they do so.”
  • From Chemjobber’s Process Wednesday, “When ‘old school’ meant a bunker“
  • A New Jersey jury found former Bristol-Myers Squibb chemist Tianle Li guilty of poisoning her husband with thallium. The Newark Star-Ledger has some excellent background reporting on the case.
  • And a California jury found Hasan Ibrahim guilty of attempting to place various hazardous materials on a passenger airplane bound for Germany
  • OSHA strengthens rules for ‘model workplace’ program
  • Illinois hazmat reporting flawed, study suggests
  • Wired showcased some incredible photographs of bullet cross sections. I’d love to know how the person who cut them pulled it off. I was told a couple of years ago when touring Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s High Explosives Applications Facility that the key to machining explosives is to do it slowly, so maybe that’s the trick here, too.

Fires and explosions:

  • Molten zinc was the source of a fire at a Ternium USA plant in Louisiana
  • A fire at Colonial Metals in Maryland was confined to the shipping and receiving area of the facility
  • A fire at waste company Pollution Control Industries in Tennessee “had no toxic chemicals burning, but the flammable chemicals storage area was well involved”; two employees and three firefighters were injured

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • Assuming that the two leaks are the same thing, this story indicates that the “nitrogen” leak at Intel listed last week was actually nitrogen trifluoride
  • Methanol or ethanol spilled at Stanford in a hazmat storage area, I think in mechanical engineering

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

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past two weeks:

  • The June issue of AIChE’s Process Safety Beacon reflects on the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, when “a series of catastrophic explosions and fires” killed 167 people and destroyed the platform.
  • OSHA announced a new national emphasisi program to protect workers from isocyanates
  • EPA says do not use propane or other unapproved refrigerants in home air conditioners
  • Toxic substances reform legislation could make it harder to seek damages from companies, lawyers say
  • Crowdsourcing toxicity prediction through a computational contest to improve models
  • Love and loss in West, Tex.
  • On the Chevron plant in Richmond, Calif., that CSB is investigating after a pipe failure led to a massive fire: Richmond Chevron refinery’s new boss cut from a different cloth; Chevron plans $1 billion upgrade of its Richmond refinery; Chevron refinery blaze to cost Richmond, school district millions in property tax revenues (because the fire knocked out a main crude refining unit, the refinery’s income decreased, and the refinery’s assessed value decreased in turn; the end result is a loss of $6.1 million in tax revenues for the city)
  • Elsewhere in California, decisions on on a toxic waste dump and battery recycler spark fury in two communities
  • Yale has established a $14 million fund for undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, and other programs to benefit women in STEM fields; the fund is in the name of Michele Dufault, an astronomy and physics major who died in a machine shop accident in 2011. (Because I know someone will ask: The UC Berkeley law scholarship endowment in Sheri Sangji’s name is $500,000.)

Other fires and explosions:

  • An acrylic acid reactor exploded at Shanghai Huayi Acrylic Acid in China, no one was injured
  • Also in China, “Workers at the Shanghai Shengying Petrochemical Co manually put chemical materials into a reactor kettle that exploded and caused fire in the factory. It was not only illegal but was not even experimented before, the Shanghai Work Safety Administration said. … The reactor was stuffed with nitric acid, epoxyethane among others. ” Six people were injured.
  • A fire involving 30,000 gals of butane being transfered from a train car to a transfer station in Pennsylvania badly burned one worker
  • A used solvent collection tank caught fire during start-up of a new process at Voltaix in Pennsylvania. The working theory is that oxygen got into the tank and reacted with something.
  • A fire at Drug & Laboratory Disposal in Michigan “started when a small amount of a chemical being neutralized under a hood by a chemist unexpectedly stared to spark and smoke.” The chemist was working in a hood and the fire was reportedly quickly contained, but somehow rekindled overnight (there’s got to be more to this story–a fire that didn’t involve large stores of chemicals rekindles after fire crews put it out?)
  • A cart containing acid and oxidizers mysteriously started fire at Penn State University, and two students put it out with a fire extinguisher

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • A fire at Quality Distribution in Utah left 2,400 gals of a temperature-sensitive organic peroxide without air conditioning, and some of the drums were leaking. Authorities wound up doing controlled burns to dispose of the material.
  • A nitrogen leak at an Intel facility in Arizona left people complaining of breathing problems and eye and skin irritation

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

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.

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.