Incompatible Chemicals: What We Have Learned by Lauren Kelly & Kevin McGhee
In the first incident, methanol and nitric acid, a mixture which under certain conditions forms explosive methyl nitrate, were combined in the same hazardous waste container. An alert laboratory worker, realizing the mistake, contacted University safety personnel. Due to the potential danger of the mixture, the University’s chemical emergency response vendor was called in the early morning hours to assist. The response team, dressed in full ballistics suits for protection, stabilized the container by adding methanol and water, diluting the mixture to a safe concentration, and ultimately disposed of the solution safely off-site.
At the conclusion of the incident investigation, it was learned that although the container was labeled as hazardous waste and included all of the chemicals in the waste, the concentrations listed on the waste label were not accurate and that the waste stream could have - and should have - been separated into two containers. This minor error in handling and labeling the waste container prompted a building evacuation, but thankfully there were no injuries.
In another recent incident involving the mismanagement of hazardous waste, an inexperienced student dumped a small amount of acetone waste into a waste container labeled for sulfuric acid. The resulting exothermic reaction caused the plastic waste container to partially melt, spilling much of its highly corrosive contents. Thankfully, the student had the awareness to report the incident to EH&S. A team of EH&S trained spill responders spent several hours cleaning up the spill..
Oil Bath Déjà vu by Juliet Ogbonnaya
Once again, a fire occurred in a fume hood when an oil bath was heated beyond its flashpoint. Most importantly, as in the prior incident, no one was injured; however both incidents could have been prevented if the basic principles stated in the original article were applied.
Safety Matters offers useful safety information and should be shared with all people that may benefit from it. It should be posted in visible locations (e.g. bulletin boards) and distributed to all staff. Additionally, articles specific to your operation can also serve as useful teaching points during staff meetings, which should always include a few minutes for safety-related discussion.
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