Post Tagged with: "Evacuation"

Chemical Spill or CHEMICAL SPILL!!

Some of you may have heard on ABC news about a “Chemical Spill” at the University of Southern California on 10/15/09.1 Luckily, you get the inside story because the spill was in my research lab.evacuation

A post-doc in my research group was transporting a few chemicals in a plastic basket from one location to another.  The plastic was brittle due to gradual chemical exposure and cracked. Three bottles fell to the ground and broke. One contained lauroyl chloride, another an anthracene derivative (I don’t remember which one) and the third was a 100 mL bottle of tributyltin chloride. The first two are entirely inert and caused no concern.  The third chemical is an alkyl tin reagent which, in general, are known to be toxic.2 Tributyl tin chloride has a high boiling point (170ºC) and a low vapor pressure compared to that of trimethyl tin chloride. To actually be affected by this chemical, you would probably have to lick the floor or rub it on your skin. However, it was a scenario where we decided it would be best to close the room and allow our on campus Hazmat team, composed of three guys and a truck, to clean it up.

Our lab safety officer soon learned, through USC Public Safety, that the Hazmat crew was unavailable due to a publicity event on the USC Health Sciences Campus. I am not exactly sure who was contacted next, but the response was big.  A building evacuation, two fire trucks, 10-15 firemen, several LAPD officers, and a Los Angeles county chemical spill response team later a news helicopter shows up. They were likely listening to the police radio and, once they arrived on the scene, started reporting the event on ABC news.

The chemical spill response team was no doubt baffled when they saw ~50 ml of clear liquid on the floor of our lab. This is the team called in when a chemical tanker flips over.

Eventually, the USC Hazmat team arrived and did the minor cleaning required from the beginning.

The image above is perhaps the best summation of how overblown the response was. It was used by ABC news to indicate a mass building evacuation.  The picture is actually of an on-campus engineering job fair that was happening a block away. Each white umbrella signifies a different visiting company.

Luckily, the media was distracted by a helium balloon, without which this overblown event may have been even further overblown.

Things I learned/re-learned from this event:

  • Know what chemicals you are working with, how to clean them up and their toxicity.
  • Find out who you need to call for both major and minor chemical spills.
  • Don’t use dollar store plastic baskets for transporting chemicals (at least not long term).
  • Don’t invite your Hazmat team to publicity events.

1) http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=7067340

2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1509475/

By October 17, 2009 6 comments Uncategorized