Securing Compressed Gas Cylinders by Tasha Hightower

Each week the University is visited by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) for random laboratory inspections. Unfortunately, week after week laboratories receive Violation Orders (VO’s) that are easily avoidable.  One of the most common, easily avoidable VOs is written for “Unsecured Compressed Gas Cylinders.”

Gas cylinders require special storage and handling precautions.  In addition to chemical hazards, including oxygen displacement and the potential toxic effects of the gas contained within the cylinder, the amount of energy resulting from the sudden release of a gas can turn a compressed gas cylinder, for lack of a better term, into a rocket if knocked over or punctured.  Furthermore, full-size compressed gas cylinders can weigh nearly 150 pounds, even when empty; more than heavy enough to cause a substantial crush injury.  For these reasons, the FDNY and OSHA require compressed gas cylinders to be stored upright and properly restrained at all times!  They must be firmly belted or chained to a wall, cylinder cart or rack, or a rigid unmovable structure. 

According to laboratory staff, cylinders are sometimes left unrestrained by the vendor after an empty cylinders have been replaced with new ones.   This is an unfortunate reality, however, the lab is ultimately responsible and MUST ensure that cylinders are properly restrained at all times.  Environmental Health & Safety recommends that cylinders be checked weekly, whenever a cylinder is in use and immediately after a delivery.

In 2009 the Medical Center received 20 violations for “Unsecured Compressed Gas Cylinders”.  We are pleased to report that this number dropped by 40% in 2010 and with your help and diligence we can ensure that this number is even lower for 2011.  If your lab does not have means to restrain its cylinders, or you anticipate using cylinders in the near future, please contact your campus Facilities Department to place a service request to have restraints installed.

Radioactive Contamination:  Why We Survey  by Thomas Morgan

Picture this.  Research Safety personnel enter a research laboratory to conduct a routine unannounced inspection.  During spot surveys for fixed contamination, a technician finds numerous locations where the Geiger-Mueller counter shows count rates well above background, sometimes exceeding 10,000 cpm.  Further surveys find contamination on the responsible investigator’s (RI) office desk.  Review of radioisotope purchase records indicates the lab recently ordered 5 mCi of I-131 to be used for protein labeling.  Conversations with the RI indicate that the radiolabeling was conducted by the RI seven days prior to the survey. 

The institution where this event occurred requires individuals who use more than 1 mCi of any radioiodine compound to submit to a bioassay within 72 hr of working with the isotope.  A belated survey of the RI’s thyroid indicated a dose of 550 mrem to the gland.  Further conversations with the RI suggested that his wife should have a precautionery bioassay even though she did not work in the lab.  A bioassay conducted the next day indicated a similar amount of I-131 in the wife’s thyroid.  The couple also had a three-month old infant who was being fed breast milk.  A bioassay indicated a dose of 850 mrem to the child’s thyroid. It was unclear how the RI’s wife became contaminated, but once the I-131 entered her body, it was available in her breast milk.

The Nuclear Regular Commission’s standard for such ‘above background’ exposures is 5,000 mrem per year for those who work with and around radioactive material, and 100 mrem per year for members of the public.  In other words, the researcher received 11% of the his annual maximum from one procedure and his wife 550%.

When unsealed sources of radioactive material get out of control, contamination can spread far and wide.  The most effective means of controlling the spread of contamination is early detection by frequent surveys of work areas.  Individuals working with unsealed sources of radioactivity are required to perform surveys before, during, and after use of radioactive materials (see Columbia University Radiation Safety Policies and Procedures Manual and Columbia University Medical Center Radiation Safety Code & Guide).


Editorial Staff: Kathleen Crowley, Chris Pitoscia, Paul Rubock sweat
Graphics, Design, Lay-out: Jean Lee
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