Post Tagged with: "safety"

Chemical Safety Board Produces Safety Video For Teenagers

The chemical safety board is the federal government agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. So I was surprised to see them release a youtube video aimed at high school students earlier this week. Apparently, high school students have been getting themselves killed by going to abandoned oil production sites and exploding low grade crude oil filled tanks. In the past 27 years 36 teenagers and 6 young adults have died at these sites.

The video is shown through the eyes of friends and family of two recently deceased teenagers.

Press Release: CSB Releases Video “No Place to Hang Out” Focusing on Deaths of Teenagers in Oil Site Explosions

Update 1: Apparently also covered by CENtral Science – Exploding oil storage sites are “No Place To Hangout”


By April 15, 2010 2 comments Uncategorized

Hydrogen Sulfide Suicide

I woke up this morning to Breaking News on my local morning news.  Police responded to a suspicious vehicle call around 10pm, where they found a woman slumped over in her car.  Police opened the door, whereupon they discovered a bucket with chemicals on the front seat.  The officer was overcome with the fumes and treated at the hospital for burning in his throat.  His condition is as yet unknown (update: he was released).

The regional hazmat team evacuated the surrounding neighborhood while they attempted to remove the woman from the car.  The woman did not survive.

The police are not releasing details of the chemical used, but it appears to be related to a similar suicide on the other side of town in February.  In that case, the victim left notes all over the car saying, “Do not open!!! poison gas!!! hydrogen sulfide.”  Another note, in part, read “hazmat team needed.”  When hazmat crews opened the car in that case, they measured levels of hydrogen sulfide more than 3 times the lethal limit.

Hydrogen sulfide (HS) (MSDS) is a colorless, highly flammable gas.  Humans can detect hydrogen sulfide at low concentrations, where it smells like rotten eggs.  Higher levels (~40 ppm) can irritate mucous membranes and cause headache, fatigue, dizziness, and even memory loss and bronchitis on repeated exposure.  At concentrations 50-400 ppm, can produce cough, dyspnea, hemoptysis, cyanosis, agitation, vertigo, confusion, nausea and vomiting, tremulousness, cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, and, possibly, loss of consciousness.  According to one source, “just 2-3 breaths of HS at >700 ppm can cause immediate death.”  Most notably, prolonged exposure quickly leads to “olfactory fatigue” whereupon you can no longer smell hydrogen sulfide and can no longer detect its presence.

The mode of action is as follows: “The major route of toxicity for HS is by inhalation. At lower doses, local irritant effects predominate. At higher exposures, cellular respiration may cease as HS forms a complex bond to the iron ion in mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase, arresting aerobic metabolism in an effect similar to cyanide toxicity and affecting all organs, particularly the nervous system.”

It’s no secret that chemicals can be used for nefarious purposes.  Perhaps the most familiar is death by cyanide poisoning, with perhaps the most infamous case being the suicide of graduate student Jason Altom at Harvard in 1998.  Atropine, adrenaline, carbon monoxide, chloroform, and even the bizarre UK case of assassination by polonium.  The educated chemist has only a thin line to cross when reaching across the chemical shelf.  A good dose of respect with a large side of humility is in order as we remember the power of the knowledge we have attained.

Suicide by hydrogen sulfide was new to me.  But a wave of this type of chemical suicide swept Japan beginning in 2008.  A USA Today article written in July 2008 noted over 500 deaths so far that year from hydrogen sulfide.  One teen, who released the gas in her apartment, sickened more than 80 people throughout the complex as the gas spread from unit to unit.  Isolated cases have appeared throughout the United States in the past few years, including these two around me in the last 3 weeks.

Fortunately, emergency management teams have produced a number of documents to aid emergency responders.

  • Very detailed CDC bulletin on hydrogen sulfide with sections for on-site medical care as well as information for long-term care
  • St. Louis University bulletin on the dangers of and treatment for hydrogen sulfide inhalation
  • Shelby County (KY) EMS presentation on hydrogen sulfide

Other Chemistry Blog posts on suicides in chemistry.

On behalf of the Chemistry Blog community, anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide – especially anyone who came to this page today for that reason – is urged to call 911, your local emergency response number, or any of the numerous national and local suicide hotlines available.  The comments of this post will be closely monitored.  Anyone attempting to post recipes for the generation of hydrogen sulfide gas will have their comments removed immediately.

Update: Chemjobber sends along an article from The Atlantic magazine talking in sometimes raw emotion about the suicide mentality that seems to be problematic in parts of Japan.

Update2: An updated list of places to contact if you are contemplating suicide today.  Please talk to someone.

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By March 15, 2010 60 comments science news

Chemistry YouTube Videos – February 2010 Roundup

A student in a chicken suit gets tackled by organic chemistry lecturer Owen Priest at Northwestern University.

An excellent video on methane by the Periodic Table of Videos crew last month.
Safety Note: Samantha “Pants!” Tang is not wearing a lab coat, gloves, and her hair is not fully pulled back.

Also from the Periodic Table of Videos, Sam shows us the Traffic Lights reaction.
Safety Note: Sam does not wear gloves even while working with NaOH powder.
EH&S Note: Throws the solution down the sink.


By March 3, 2010 10 comments fun

Wisconsin-Madison Lab Fire

A graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suffered burns and the loss of their favorite chair due to a fire that was started in the lab. A small lab fire usually wouldn’t make for interesting news, but see if you can spot something strange in the redacted narrative from the Madison Fire Department.

E4 found dry chem extinguisher activated, smoke, dry chem created haze on fire floor. found burned cushion chair in stairwell that was pushed there from room where reportedly students were working with chemicals that were spilled on to a chair that then started on fire. students came up with the idea to use a dry chem extinguisher as well as push the burning chair down the hallway to the stair well. It was reported to us that (deleted) was one of the students who was already at the UW hosp being treated for burns to his hand. E4 saw no one on the fire floor upon arrival.

The student took a burning item out of the laboratory and put it in the stairwell. A follow up revealed the student was worried about other chemicals in the lab catching on fire, but to the best of my knowledge most laboratories are designed to contain a lab fire. If the fire had gotten further out of control and caught the hallway and stairwell on fire, Madison might be missing a building today.

For future reference young graduate students the correct method for dealing with a burning chair in lab is the following. Rush to the safety shower and turn the flow of water on, then with a non-flammable object push the chair under the shower. Do not transport flaming objects outside the lab!

The chemical that started the fire was ethanol. Apparently the student was cleaning a pipette with an open flame nearby. As the student was shaking the pipette dry, a few drops of ethanol landed onto the chair and caught on fire.

The fire department received the call at 11:17 pm.

More media coverage: UW student burned in lab fire (The Cap Times)


By February 18, 2010 4 comments Uncategorized