Newsletter - July 1996

Ergonomic Service Expands

By Judy Sly

The Department of Radiological and Environmental Management (REM) would like to announce the expansion of its existing ergonomic service.

Ergonomics, the study of people in their working environment, has become increasingly more important for people in office settings since the integration of computers into every facet of daily work routines. REM has recently received approval to pro-actively address office ergonomics at the West Lafayette Campus. The service will be three fold:

  • 1) Education - Purdue employees may receive a 20 minute training session on common occupational illnesses resulting from poor ergonomic settings and tips on how to rearrange an office set-up to prevent such pains. A copy of the training video or computer training diskette may be obtained through REM.
  • 2) Intervention/Ergonomic Surveys - Although this service of conducting an ergonomic survey for any employee's office set-up is not new, REM has recently been granted funding to supply minor office aids, such as foot rests, wrist rests and task chairs, as needed. Prior to July 1, 1996, unless the employee already demonstrated a medical need for such aids, departments had to bear the cost of such purchases. This funding will, hopefully, facilitate adjustments before Cumulative Trauma Disorder becomes an issue.
  • 3) Ergonomics in new construction - New construction and office renovations will be reviewed specifically for proper ergonomics. To ensure success of this program, a cross functional team including members from the Design Studio, Carpenter Shop, Planning & Engineering, Purchasing and REM has been formed to address specifications in office furniture and new construction. The members are: Chuck Anderson, Dianne Schmenk, Terri Smith-Wright, Pam Burns, Ellen Lennox, Jay Schwartz, Susan Welborn and Judy Sly.

If you have any questions about the program or would like your area to receive training, call the program administrator, Jay Schwartz, (4-1425) or one of the other team members.

Notice of Violation From the EPA

By Carol Shelby

Purdue has received a notice of violation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The alleged violations of our hazardous waste permit conditions and Indiana Code and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) come as a result of EPA's 1991-95 inspections.

First, EPA alleges that Purdue University violated permit conditions requiring the identification and labeling of all chemical wastes generated in research and teaching labs.

Second, EPA alleges that Purdue University violated permit conditions requiring that all containers of chemical waste generated in research and teaching laboratories be closed tightly at all times.

Purdue officials are negotiating the fine with the EPA.

Safety in the labs is goal number one. Preventing future fines is important as well. We need your help. REM will be surveying labs soon, and discussing solutions to the "capping" and labeling issues. We are considering self closing waste containers, pre-labeled containers and signage to assist users in remembering to comply with the federal requirements. REM staff will visit with faculty and staff to reiterate the urgency of these issues. EPA will be on campus for the 1996 inspection soon.

If you have suggestions to encourage the proper labeling and capping of chemical containers, please call Carol Shelby (4-7504).

Chemical Lab incident

By Linda Swihart

A graduate research assistant was injured this past Spring semester by the chemicals and glass shards propelled at him when a violent chemical reaction caused a 1-L flask to explode. His quick response and that of others in the lab, together with the close proximity of a safety shower, kept the injuries and property damage to a minimum.

The researcher was using an established procedure from Organic Synthesis to oxidize 1 mole of propargyl alcohol to the aldehyde, but he made several modifications to the published procedure. One modification was intentional and the other two were oversights or misunderstandings of the instructions, and the results were extremely unfortunate and nearly tragic. A large piece of glass cut him deeply on the throat near his jugular vein. Bits of glass were driven into his jaw and gums. He suffered chemical burns (concentrated sulfuric acid) on his torso and thighs. Safety goggles protected his eyes from damage but he was not wearing a lab coat.

The ether still in the corner of the hood (less than two feet away from the reaction set-up) was cold, or the damage and injuries might have been much worse. The reflux column and the neck of the 2 liter still pot were smashed by flying glass, but the contents (1 liter) stayed put. The charred appearance of the inner hood walls and sash led to speculation that there had been a flash of flame, but it is likely that the spraying of the mixture of concentrated sulfuric acid and propargyl alcohol could have accounted for the char and tar everywhere.

The researcher's injuries are healing well and he returned to the lab a couple of weeks after the accident.

Other accidents due to similar modifications/mistakes with the same OS prep have been published, and are cited in Bretherick's Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards. The accident and injuries could have been prevented by prior consultation with this resource, which is on the safety shelf in the Chemistry Library. The newest edition currently sells for around $200, and the CD-ROM is $500. Todd Albin (4-1510) can provide you with ordering information.

Water Quality

By Neal Stephenson & Bob Golden

Water quality concerns fall into one of three categories: non-hazardous, potentially hazardous, or hazardous. The first thing done once a concern has been raised is to determine the category.

A non-hazardous determination is made when no threat to health is posed. This could be the result of non-soluble particles of rust loosened from within pipes by vibration, hard water deposits, or sulfurous smell, usually caused by a faulty anode in the water heater.

A potentially hazardous situation exists when an unknown pollutant, which may or may not constitute a health threat, is detected in the water. Suddenly-appearing odd tastes, high dissolved solid content, or non-pathogenic bacterial contamination (such as iron-metabolizing bacteria found in toilet reservoirs) are some of the causes for a potentially hazardous determination. Once a situation is deemed potentially hazardous, the next step must be taken: to determine which of the other two categories, hazardous or non-hazardous, the condition ultimately falls into.

A hazardous condition is determined where there is a definite threat from chemical or bacterial contamination within the potable water system. A hazardous condition may be indicated by discoloration (green or yellow), or tests that determine chemical or pesticide contamination, serious chemical or sewage cross- connections within the water system, or the presence of pathogenic bacterial contamination.

To report a water quality concern, contact Bob Golden.

Surge Suppressor Can Cause Fires

(From Environmental Health and Safety Update, University of Washington)

In one year two families on Brainbridge Island, just off the coast of Washington, lost their homes due to fires caused by Multiple Outlet Power Surge Suppressors.

Do not confuse surge suppressor strips with the general purpose multiple outlet power strips. The former contains a Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) designed to limit power current surges or "spikes" that can damage electronic equipment. The varistor traps the over-the-limit part of the current surge and dissipates it as heat. All MOV's gradually deteriorate with use.

The problem found with some MOV components is that over an 18 to 24 month period, the materials used begin to break down. As the MOV ages, its operating characteristics change and it can become more sensitive and dissipate more heat. If the case is made of plastic, this process could eventually cause the plastic to discolor, melt, flow, and ignite. The plastic burns fiercely, resists extinguishing, and produces fumes. Early signs of failure include discoloration on the underside and top due to heat buildup.

The culprits are "low cost," multiple outlet surge suppressors with a case made of plastic. These units are commonly sold at discount stores, in packages of two or more, and are U.L. listed.

Other strips have been known to fail due to the excess demand placed on them. Most surge suppressor plug strips are designed for personal computers and peripherals that draw 2 to 8 amps, but many are incorrectly used as extension cords for small appliances such as space heaters (which draw 12 amps or more), TV's, lamps, copy and fax machines, phone answering systems, etc.

If you find a failing device, throw it out immediately and replace it with a quality unit fabricated with a metal case if possible. Quality units will have a warning indicator and/or an internal shut down mechanism if the MOV is failing.

Pesticide Safety

By Ann Piechota

Pesticides are an integral part of plant production and plant related research. They are also potentially harmful to humans and the environment. Pesticides can be carried by wind, water, or soil and can remain as residues on plants, clothing, or equipment -- making anyone working in fields or greenhouses at risk of pesticide related injury.

For this reason, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was implemented years ago and has been reauthorized and amended regularly. The most recent amendment includes the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), which expands protection beyond those who handle pesticides to include all agricultural workers.

The WPS requires that employers provide all potentially affected employees with training in pesticide safety and emergency response, access to personal protective equipment, the materials needed for decontamination, and information on where and when specific products are applied. Personal protective equipment and decontamination kits should be provided by supervisors and/or principal investigators. They should also ensure that employees use PPE according to label instructions and receive the appropriate training and fit testing as needed.

Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that employees are aware of and understand application directions of the pesticides they use. With the large number of temporary employees working at Purdue's agricultural facilities and the broad range of products applied by numerous applicators, a central information area is an excellent means of communication. A central information area will provide accessible information so employees can know what was applied, and where and when the application took place. These specific details will enable emergency response personnel to respond quickly to problems even if the applicator is nowhere to be found.

For more information on the Worker Protection Standard contact Ann Piechota at (4-1497).

Accidents to Learn From
(Speaking of Safety, Spring 1996)

Blast Injures 15 Students

Emergency crews rushed 20 students and the teacher to a hospital when a chemistry experiment exploded. The accident occurred at a high school in Richmond, Kansas. The class mixed ethyl alcohol with oxygen and someone threw a match into the five-gallon glass container.

The students suffered glass cuts and abrasions. The lacerations were deep and required stitches. One female student was flown to University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City for treatment of a deep neck laceration.

The accident sounds a lot like the whistling bottle demonstration. Using a glass container is a bad idea. While plastic should be safer, there is at least one report of a plastic carboy exploding.

The difference between a soft explosion (deflagration) and a hard explosion (detonation) is often the proportion of the ingredients, humidity and the intensity of the ignition source. Since it's difficult to control these in this demonstration, it would be better to videotape the performance in the absence of students and show it later.

Laboratory Explosion Damages Building, Injures Researcher

A laboratory explosion at a major southeastern university severely damaged a building and slightly injured a researcher. The explosion occurred in a glove bag in a cold room. The glove bag contained a 5% hydrogen in nitrogen atmosphere that was charged periodically, not constantly supplied.

The researcher had been aware of a leak in the glove bag and used 100% hydrogen to recharge the chamber. The pass-through port in the glove bag was used to place instruments inside and was improperly sealed. The explosion, which basically destroyed the lab and adjoining walls, occurred 20 minutes after the researcher left the room. Maybe it would have been a good idea to take the time to fix the leak!

Don't Rub Your Eyes!

1 - This incident in New Westminster, B.C., involved a student performing a dissection of a crayfish. The student rubbed her eyes and soon found them inflamed. The auditor (who was in the lab) asked the biology teacher what preservative was used. He didn't know and couldn't find the MSDS!

The eye wash was utilized and the student was referred to the school nurse who also had no MSDS sheets available. To compound the problem, the student wouldn't go to the hospital for a check of her eyes. (Everything turned out okay.)

2 - An elementary school teacher in the Pasadena, Texas Independent School District was handling a classroom tarantula. Unknowingly she had microscopic hairs on her hands from the spider. She then rubbed her eyes and got hairs in her eyes. She spent over a year in surgeries getting the hairs removed and her eyes repaired.

If you are familiar with recent laboratory accidents that will help us identify potential hazards, please share them.

Dog Days of Summer

By John Rider

This summer has not been a "pedigree" of summers. Heat, humidity, and endless rain have doggedly made for hot and sticky days. Before one starts to mutter, consider that the average Indiana temperature last August was 78.2, or 5.7 degrees higher than normal. This made it the fourth warmest August in the past 100 years!

Four environmental factors affect the discomfort index: Temperature, Humidity, Air Velocity and Radiant Heat (i.e. sunlight). The body reacts to temperature by circulating more blood to the skin, carrying heat from deep within. Sweating allows heat loss to occur by evaporation.

General awareness about the following conditions can help protect both workers and citizens living in hot environments.

When the body cannot dispose of excess heat, it builds up and heat disorders can occur. Case in point -- more than 700 people in Chicago died during last year's summer heat wave.

Here is what to watch out for -- be aware of the following signs/symptoms:

  • Heat Stroke - most serious health problem. Medical care is required as soon as possible. Sweating is minimal or stops, skin is hot and dry. Other signs include confusion or coma.
  • Heat Exhaustion - profuse sweating, weakness or fatigue, nausea, and headaches are some symptoms.
  • Heat Cramps - muscle spasms or cramps. Spasms happen when the body's lost salt is not replaced.
  • Fainting and Heat Rash - can also be heat related. A person's age, physical fitness, dehydration, heavy versus light clothing, and extent to which he or she is heat "adjusted" are factors.

Remember, the five steps to prevent heat stress are: Engineering Controls (fans, air conditioning), Work Practices (drinking water as much as 1 quart per hour) rest in a cool place and drink an electrolyte liquid such as Gatorade, Work/Rest periods, Acclimatization (take time to become adjusted back to the heat after being in a cooler climate), and Awareness.

Trent Moves On

By now you may have heard that Trent Mays has left Purdue University for bigger, better and colder opportunities. Trent, the rad waste guy, has worked in the REM Department as a Health Physicist for the past 4 1/2 years. During that time Trent has made many improvements and numerous friends.

Trent has taken a job at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN (he keeps trying to convince himself that the winters will be no colder than in Lafayette). His new position is similar to the old, with the medical side thrown in to add a little flavor.

If you have dealt with Trent in the past, you can still call his old number and we will assist you.