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Friday chemical safety round up

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

  • Says DrugMonkey commented on the EH&S incidents on his campus: It is always the chemists.
  • Liberal Arts Chemist shared an incident from when he was cleaning out a lab as an undergrad: “I remember one flask went into the sink of hot soapy water and started to hiss and I immediately ducked below the edge of the sink just before a resounding boom that brought the entire floor to the door.”
  • A piece in Nature on gold mining touched on the risks for workers (h/t It’s the Rheo Thing)
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office urged federal agencies to coordinate better to avoid duplicative inspections of labs handling controlled agents, such as anthrax
  • One of the Chemical Safety Board’s recommendations following the 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Tex., was that the American Petroleum Institute and United Steelworkers International Union work together to develop standards to prevent operator fatigue. CSB now wants public comment on the draft “recommended practice” developed by the organizations. The request appears to be a part of a more general review of recommendations by CSB.

Fires and explosions:

  • A tank of polyethylene exploded, killing seven workers and seriously injuring 13 more, at a Daelim Industrial plant in South Korea
  • An electrician was burned in a fire at an Akzo Nobel Polymer Chemicals plant in Texas; the electrician was working on an actuator that broke and ejected a chemical into his face; a company spokeswoman said the blaze from magnesium oxide that exploded and then caught fire; the electrician is suing the company
  • Aluminum dust in duct work started a fire at aerospace and defense manufacturer RSA Engineered Products in California
  • A lightning strike or spark ignited a 40,000-gal ethanol tank at Ecoenergy in North Carolina
  • And in South Carolina, something ignited the outer lining of a 1,000-gal tank at Lindau Chemicals of “a chemical used in paint mixtures”
  • A shelving unit collapsed in a lab at Ashland University in Ohio, spilling chemicals that subsequently ignited. “A staff member was able to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, but not before the smoke set off one sprinkler, [university spokesman Steve] Hannan said. Potentially chemical-laced water spilled over into all four labs on the south end, he said.”

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • Why it’s important to keep food and chemicals separate: Three workers at India’s Vikas Power Equipments were fatally poisoned after they “ran out of salt and searched for it in a room that also stored painting material. There they found the chemical which looked exactly like salt. The chemical, which couldn’t be immediately defined, was then mixed in the food (tehri) they had cooked.” Four other workers were hospitalized in critical condition.
  • Nitric acid ate a hole through a fitting on a 2,500-gal tank and spilled into a concrete berm at Aulick Chemical in Kentucky; officials evacuated people in a three-quarter-mile radius
  • A one-ton cylinder fell, cracked, and leaked chlorine at Bermco Industrial Center in Alabama
  • A blast of pressurized oxygen knocked a maintenance worker off his feet at a manufacturing plant in New Jersey (thankfully, the oxygen didn’t ignite, or the incident would have been a lot worse)
  • A liter of chloroform spilled at a hospital in Wisconsin
  • Bringing back “on roads and railways” just because: Lego! And broken wine bottles.

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.

Explosives case continued for former UC Davis chemist David Snyder

The UC Davis chemist accused of possessing and intending to make explosive devices on the University of California, Davis, campus appeared in court again today for a pre-hearing conference. The case was continued to another pre-hearing conference set for April 30, says Michael J. Cabral, assistant chief deputy district attorney at the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.

Snyder, 32, injured his hand in an explosion in his on-campus apartment in January. He faces 17 charges of possession and intent to make destructive devices, reckless disposal of hazardous waste, and possession of firearms on campus.

The Woodland, Calif., Daily Democrat reports that Snyder’s defense attorney had a short conversation with the judge before the new conference date was set.

Earlier this week, the Sacramento Bee reported that UC Davis has spent more than $23,000 on the incident so far. The total comes from expenses such as overtime for police and firefighters. It does not include expenses for chemical disposal or environmental tests.

Also earlier this week, several news outlets reported that people in hazmat suits again searched and removed evidence from Snyder’s apartment.

The California Aggie reports that Snyder’s research appointment ended on Jan. 31. Snyder was released from jail on $2 million bail on Feb. 20. “Under the conditions of his release, Snyder is not allowed to return to UC Davis without notifying the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD), said Claudia Morain, UC Davis spokesperson, in an email interview,” the Aggie says.

3/15/2013 UPDATE: ABC News10 in Sacramento had a story last night that included specifics on some of the chemicals found in Snyder’s apartment. An image of an evidence log lists:

  • 1 sample potassium perchlorate plus original container collected
  • 1 sample triple seven plus original container collected
  • 1 sample aluminum powder
  • 1 sample green pyrotechnic fuse and 2 rolls collected
  • 1 sample red pyrotechnic fuse and (illegible) collected
  • (illegible) smokeless plus original container (illegible)

News10 interviewed James Symes, a chemistry professor at Cosumnes River College. Symes also mentions ammonium perchlorate, class 1 explosives (ammonium perchlorate is one–it’s unclear whether Symes is just referring to that or if there were others), and “chemicals to make explosives.”

Footage of Snyder walking down stairs shows that his hand is no longer bandaged.

UK thallium and arsenic poisoning case neither accident nor suicide attempt

Chemistry World

reports today that the University of Southampton chemistry graduate student poisoned with thallium and arsenic is slowly recovering. A joint university, police, and U.K. Health & Safety Executive found that the poisoning was neither an accident nor a suicide attempt. “Malicious poisoning remains a possible explanation,” Chemistry World says.

The Health & Safety Executive, the U.K. version of the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, did not cite the university for any health and safety violations, Chemistry World says.

Also from the Chemistry World story:

Sources close to the victim, who wish to remain anonymous, spoke to Chemistry World with the student’s agreement, say he survived a dose of thallium that is usually lethal, and is now fighting to regain the ability to walk. ‘Doctors consider him extremely lucky to be alive,’ one source says. …

‘He is currently continuing a rehab programme in hospital,’ a source says. ‘He’s working towards walking again, but clearly the nerve damage to his limbs was rather extensive and regrowth takes time. Currently, standing up is extremely difficult and he’s been in a wheelchair for some time now. He has recovered from hair loss and has most of his hand movement back. I think he would quite like it if more people appreciated the severity of it.

Friday chemical safety round up

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

  • The March Process Safety Beacon covers a topic that certainly can apply to laboratories: Are your signs and labels confusing?
  • OSHA found the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center at fault for three serious workplace safety violations in the death of a researcher from meningitis last year. The violations were for “failing to require workers to use a safety enclosure when performing microbiological work with a viable bacteria culture; provide training on the signs and symptoms of illnesses as a result of employee exposure to a viable bacteria culture, such as meningitis; and provide available vaccines for workers potentially exposed to bacteria.” I don’t see that there’s a fine attached to the violations, which might be a limit of how OSHA oversees federal workplaces.
  • California’s Contra Costa County, the location of a fire at a Chevron plant last summer, adopted an industrial safety ordinance in 1999. The most recent annual report on the ordinance shows that “major chemical accidents and releases” have generally decreased since the ordinance went into effect. Local news stories said that 2012 had an “uptick” in incidents. Looking at the raw numbers, the “uptick” just looks like noise in the data, although 2012 does look worse than the last few years when the county weighs the scores for incident severity (report pages 17-18).
  • U.S. Supreme Court accepts donning and doffing case: Must workers “be paid for the time they spend donning and doffing protective equipment and then traveling to and from their workstations”?
  • Dozens of companies together will pay $1.6 million to settle with EPA over hazardous waste dumping at a California landfill
  • West Virginia regulators are seeking $250,000 in new water pollution fines against Axiall relating to a former PPG plant
  • An Indiana nitrogen fertilizer plant is on hold over link to bombs in Afghanistan
  • Managers of a Samsung Electronics plant could face charges of negligent homicide for a fatal hydrofluoric acid leak in January
  • The legacy of computer chip manufacturing in Silicon Valley: Google now has to manage trichloroethylene vapor emitted by the soil under two of its buildings
  • Long-serving chemical safety board member, Isadore “Irv” Rosenthal, died Feb. 10 of pneumonia.

Fires and explosions:

  • An explosion and fire at a Bestchem plant in China injured five and led to the evacuation of 20,000 people
  • In India, a fire started from a leaking gas cylinder at NDT Chemicals. Fires also damaged Yashashwi Rasayan and Vivek Chemicals.
  • Nearly 2,500 kg of an organic peroxide overheated and ignited at a OneSteel factory in Australia; 8 people were hospitalized and another 17 had to be decontaminated.
  • Some sort of cleaning process caused a flash fire at a microencapsulation facility owned by Lipo Technologies in Ohio
  • A fire destroyed the chemistry laboratory of the University of Abuja, in Nigeria
  • An explosion in a “Range & Wildlife” lab at Texas Tech University sounds like it was from a natural gas leak of some sort (I’ve asked TTU for more details and will update when I hear back)

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • A “liquid chlorine” spill at a chemical plant in Russia injured 30 people
  • An alarm warned of an arsine gas leak at laser manufacturer Alfalight in Wisconsin
  • After an electrical problem caused “a short and a minor explosion” at the F.X. Matt Brewery in New York, firefighters discovered that “200 to 250 gallons of [2%] sodium hydroxide had leaked out of a 1,000 gallon vat on the third floor and was dripping down into a two-story industrial space below.”
  • A University of Maine lab manager was neutralizing chlorine tablets when he or she “added sodium bisulfate and water to the mix, which ‘reacted and offed’” chlorine gas
  • Tetramethylethylenediamine spilled in a lab at the University of Texas, Permian Basin
  • A broken, warming freezer in a chemistry lab at the University of New Brunswick, in Canada, led to hazmat call-out because of concerns the chemicals in the freezer might react as they warmed
  • Unidentified chemicals leaked at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of South Carolina
  • A Massachusetts General Hospital lab technician was injured when glassware containing tetrazine shattered

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.

UPDATE on the Texas Tech incident: Associate Vice President for Research Alice Young tells me that the explosion was from natural gas that apparently accumulated behind a wall from a break in a line outside the building. A wildlife research group prepares biological samples in the lab. According to the EH&S incident report, “With the laboratory in a good state of order and chemicals stored properly, there were no secondary incidents.”

A brief Friday chemical safety round-up

Just a quick update today on two stories we’ve been following closely:

  • Patrick Harran’s preliminary hearing in the Sheri Sangji case was continued to April 26, not March 21 as the district attorney’s office told me it would be.
  • David Snyder, the UC Davis chemist arrested on explosives charges, was released on $2 million bail after family members “put up homes and other properties as collateral,” the Sacramento Bee reports.

Friday chemical safety round up


LBNL’s “Safety is Elemental” logo

Chemical health and safety news from the past week:

  • Yes, Patrick Harran was due back in court today to wrap up the preliminary hearing in the #SheriSangji case. The word from Los Angeles is that the hearing is continued until March 21.
  • What five words collectively strike fear in the hearts of lab workers? On Twitter, check out #dangerous5 for examples. @ScientistMags collected her stories at “We HAVE to evacuate NOW!“
  • How Not to Do It: Chromium Trioxide, at In the Pipeline: “The whole reaction went up in a big fireball, which filled a good part of the hood and came roaring out of the gap in the front sash. I felt the heat roll over me, yelled something incoherent, and bolted for the safety shower.”
  • From Air & Space magazine, an account of “history’s worst” rocket launch accident in China in 1996: “But instead of rising vertically for nine seconds and several thousand feet [before starting to arc toward the east] I saw it traveling horizontally, accelerating as it progressed down the valley, only a few hundred feet off the ground.”
  • Wondering about job-related injuries and illnesses at your workplace? OSHA requires employers to post a summary, called Form 300A, between Feb. 1 and April 30 for the previous year.
  • Manager says safety issues are ignored at Hanford nuclear site, and she’s filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Bechtel National and URS Energy & Construction.
  • Report faults U.S. use of Mexican battery recyclers that do not meet American environmental standards: “Since 2008, new United States limits on lead pollution have made domestic recycling complicated and costly. That has helped propel the recycling trade to Mexico, both legally and illegally, environmental groups say, because that country has less stringent limits for lead pollution, and far less vigorous enforcement.”
  • Officials from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory met with City of Berkeley representatives to discuss safety culture:

    At that committee meeting [Berkeley Lab’s Safety Culture Work Group Chair Mike] Ruggieri explained that compliance enforcement can be used to improve safety performance, but at some point a plateau is reached. To improve further, an organization needs to develop and sustain a mature safety culture that includes safety awareness in everyday business practices. He pointed to the Lab’s Integrated Safety Management (ISM) as a successful part of the culture, where safety is incorporated into projects from the initial planning stages forward.

    The Lab’s Safety Spot Award program, which recognizes employee exhibiting safe behavior with a certificate and cash award, was another example of a successful way to sustain the culture. The Berkeley committee especially liked how any Lab employee could nominate another for an award. The new Safety is Elemental pins, which are given to Spot winners, also resonated with the group.”

Fires and explosions:

  • The Air Liquide explosion last week in Louisiana killed one worker, 30-year-old Javier Ortiz, and seriously burned another. There’s no word on the cause of the explosion.

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • Vinyl chloride leaked at a Lubrizol plant in Kentucky
  • Two GlobalFoundries workers in Malta were hospitalized for exposure to hydrofluoric acid.
  • Something happened in a Villanova University chemistry teaching lab that led to an apparent asthma attack and nose bleed for one student, then dizziness, nausea, and breathing problems for others. They were doing a synthesis involving propionic acid and alcohol. I e-mailed the department chair to see what else he could tell me, but he hasn’t responded.

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.

More details emerge on UC Davis explosives case

At a bail hearing on Friday for University of California, Davis, chemist David Snyder, more details emerged about the case against him for alleged possession and intent to make destructive devices, reckless disposal of hazardous waste, and possession of firearms on campus. Snyder was injured in an explosion in his campus apartment on Jan. 17.

2013.02.11 Snyder explosives structures
From the Sacramento Bee:

Prosecutors on Friday said investigators found explosive materials, including nitroglycerine, in UC Davis chemistry researcher David Snyder’s blast-damaged apartment – and said he had been warned in the past not to make explosives at his university’s labs. …

Snyder, 32, pleaded not guilty at his Friday bail hearing in Yolo Superior Court.

He remains held in lieu of $2 million bail at Yolo County jail on 17 explosives and firearms-related charges connected to the early morning blast Jan. 17 at his Russell Park apartment in Davis.

Prosecutors added seven firearms counts in an amended complaint against the chemist, one each for weapons investigators recovered from the apartment, along with what Holzapfel said were “multiple boxes of ammunition.”

Yolo Superior Court Judge David Reed denied Snyder defense attorney Linda Parisi’s request to lower Snyder’s bail to $500,000, saying his alleged actions put friends, neighbors, colleagues and first responders at risk.

Three weeks after the blast, Snyder sat quietly in the jury booth, his damaged left hand in a substantially smaller wrap than at his first court appearance. …

In Snyder’s apartment, prosecutors allege he had several common explosives: a vial of triacetone-triperoxide, known by its initials TATP; hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMTD; and [cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine, or] RDX. …

[Snyder defense attorney Linda] Parisi downplayed prosecutors’ explosives claims following the hearing, saying the materials were in “very small amounts” that would require “some force to detonate.”

UC Davis officials declined to comment on Friday’s hearing, but said campus administrators in 2011 had received a complaint stemming from a 2009 incident in which Snyder and a classmate allegedly made small firecrackers in a chemistry department lab.

The complaint was reviewed and the case closed, university officials said. …

I’m not sure where Parisi is getting her explosives information, but nitroglycerine, TATP, and HMTD are primary explosives, which means they are generally considered very sensitive and easily detonated. RDX is a secondary explosive, which means that it is less sensitive. When people design explosive devices, typically a small amount of a primary explosive will be used to set off a larger amount of a secondary explosive (or so I learned when I was reporting Examining Explosives).

Snyder is due back in court on March 14 for “a prehearing conference,” the Bee says. There’s still no word on the identity of Snyder’s alleged accomplice.

Hand-drawn structures inspired by Carmen.

Updated to add link to amended complaint.

Updated again: The Daily Democrat story from the hearing had little information beyond the Sac Bee, except that if convicted Snyder would serve time in a local jail rather than state prison because of a 2011 law. And so far UC Davis has spent more than $23,000 on the case.

Friday chemical safety round-up

Chemical health and safety news from the past week:

  • Chemjobber shared 14 thoughts you might have during a (somewhat) unexpected exotherm: “And there come the hot solvent fumes out of the top of the condenser!”
  • John of It’s the Rheo Thing gets to populate a pristine new lab and wonders what his labmate ordered that’s flammable, corrosive, and toxic
  • Study slams nuclear waste practices at Hanford, which a source recently characterized for me as the “American leader in radionuclide contamination of the environment”
  • CSB released its final report on the 2011 Carbide Industries fire that killed two workers and injured two more. From the press release:

    The deaths and injuries likely resulted when water leaked into the electric arc furnace causing an over-pressure event, ejecting furnace contents heated to approximately 3800 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with molten calcium carbide, the furnace spewed powdered debris and hot gases, which blew through the double-pane reinforced glass window of the furnace control room that was located just 12 feet from open vents atop the furnace. The two workers inside died within 24 hours from severe burn injuries.

    CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “This accident is literally a case study into the tragic, predictable consequences of running equipment to failure even when repeated safety incidents over many years warn of impending failure. When control room windows blew out during previous furnace incidents, the company merely reinforced them, rather than taking the safe course and moving the control room farther from the furnace and investigating why the smaller furnace overpressure events were happening in the first place. It is what we call a ‘normalization of deviance,’ in which abnormal events become acceptable in everyday operations.”

  • OSHA is seeking input on how to update its Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory Program; National Recognized Testing Laboratories “are third-party laboratories that meet OSHA’s requirements for performing safety testing and certification of products used in the workplace”

Fires and explosions:

  • A drum of toluene caught fire at Harcros Chemicals in Georgia
  • A California high school student was burned on the throat when “an experiment involving two chemicals” started a fire that ignited a backpack
  • A fire in a Washington State University lab injured a student, who received third-degree burns on one of his legs. Sounds like an experimental scale-up was involved.
  • A student was injured in a lab explosion in Pakistan: “Rescue officials said that Zeeshan was injured when a bottle of acid, lying close to him, broke. The fumes, they said, reacted with the solution in the apparatus he was holding, resulting in a secondary explosion.”

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • A leak of pivaloyl chloride at an AkzoNobel plant in Texas cause da shelter-in-place order at a nearby LyondellBasell facility
  • A faulty valve caused a sulfur dioxide leak at a wastewater treatment plant in Tennessee
  • Hydrogen sulfide leaked at Austal ships in Australia

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.