Lessons Learned – Fume Hood Fire

A small fire in one of our laboratories involving the pyrophoric reagent, lithium aluminum
hydride, in an ethyl ether solution, was quickly extinguished without any injuries.  A student was using a three-neck flask under nitrogen gas line to slowly add powdered tiglic acid, which
produces an exothermic reaction.  Under normal circumstances, the very gradual addition of the tiglic acid will not cause the release of an excessive amount of energy.  However, the tiglic acid had not been thoroughly homogenized and a large clump fell into the flask.  Releasing much of the pyrophoric solution over the interior of the fume hood, where it quickly caught fire.

Rapid response by the student prevented this small fire from becoming a major incident.  When it quickly became evident that the fire was too large to simply smother, the researcher grabbed one of the lab’s fire extinguishers and promptly quenched the flames.   The lab then contacted EH &S to report the incident.  This near-miss highlights the importance of:

  • Knowing the hazards associated with substances you are working with.
  • Taking extra precaution when using air-reactive or pyrophoric reagents, especially when
    performing a procedure that involves an exothermic reaction. 
  • Taking extra care to ensure that the procedure is carefully controlled, especially when performing any experiment that involves any heating of a flammable substance.
  • Knowing the location of safety equipment, such as the fire extinguisher, and how to use it.
  • Working with the buddy system-never work alone with hazardous materials.
  • Attending Laboratory Safety and Fire Life Safety training before working in the laboratory (http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/Training.html).

Happy Anniversary!  665 gallons of acetone recycled and reused in
the past year

During the first year of the acetone recycling program in the Department of Chemistry at Morningside, EH&S recycled and returned to use 655 gallons to participating labs.  This successful program has saved the University  thousands of dollars on new purchases and waste disposal, and reduced its environmental footprint by  diverting the equivalent of twelve 55 gallon drums of acetone waste from traditional incineration disposal.  The next twelve months seems even more promising as we are on a pace to recycle and reuse close to 1,000 gallons.

We hope to build on this success and the 8-plus years of successful xylene and ethanol recycling in CUMC’s Pathology and Dermatopathology
laboratories, where more than 3,000 gallons are recycled and reused each year, by  investigating additional recycling opportunities for other
Recycling website for information on other initiatives:

Acetone bottle

EPA Audit

The Hazardous Waste management program on the Morningside campus was recently subject to an unannounced EPA audit. Not only were no violations issued-a rarity for such visits-but the program was rated 'excellent' by the auditor. We would like to express our appreciation to all parties who play an important role in the day-to-day operations of this program, especially those of you who have direct responsibility for initiating the process on the laboratory bench level.

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