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Author: Subject: Learning from Others' Mistakes: Explosion at Texas Tech
DDTea
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Learning from Others' Mistakes: Explosion at Texas Tech

I came across a very interesting news article a little while ago:

Texas Tech Lessons
 Quote: On Jan. 7, 2010, Texas Tech University (TTU) graduate student Preston Brown was working with another graduate student to synthesize and characterize an energetic material, most likely nickel hydrazine perchlorate. Despite being told by their adviser, chemistry professor Louisa J. Hope-Weeks, to make no more than 100 mg of the material, the students synthesized 10 g. They then divided up the product: Brown took half to prepare the sample to run characterization tests, and the other student took half for solubility studies. Because the product was lumpy, Brown placed his portion into a mortar. He believed that the compound was safe when “wet,” so he added some hexane and—wearing safety goggles but working at a bench in the middle of the lab, with no blast shield—“very gently, very, very gently” used a pestle to try to break up the chunks, Brown told TTU environmental health and safety (EH&S) officers, according to an interview transcript. When Brown thought he was done, he set down the mortar and took off his goggles. Then he decided to give the compound one last stir. The mortar exploded in Brown’s hands. Brown “lost three digits on his left hand, severely lacerated his right hand, perforated his left eye, scratched his right eye and had superficial cuts to the parts of his body that were exposed,” says an investigation report prepared by Randy Nix, TTU’s EH&S director. The other student was not injured.

There's a lot of good information in this article regarding laboratory techniques with novel, uncharacterized energetic materials and it's worth a read just for them.

For example, in regard to transporting energetic materials:
 Quote: For quantities greater than 10 mg, samples must be packaged inside an ammunition can, with additional specifications for quantities between 300 mg and 2 g. People transporting explosives must have training to handle the materials and must hand-carry the containers or place them in a government vehicle...

Ammo cans are readily available and pretty cheap, so it could be a piss-easy and dirt-cheap way to add that extra level of safety to your work.

I really like the recommendation about researchers peer-reviewing proposed procedures.

"In the end the proud scientist or philosopher who cannot be bothered to make his thought accessible has no choice but to retire to the heights in which dwell the Great Misunderstood and the Great Ignored, there to rail in Olympic superiority at the folly of mankind." - Reginald Kapp.
the Z man
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Isn't nickel hydrazine perchlorate that stuff that detonates even dispersed under water? Maybe they should have listened to the professor...
Anyway I don't think goggles wuold have helped much with 10g of HE shooting mortar's fragments at you.
bbartlog
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I think this was already posted here somewhere, though a couple of searches don't turn it up.

 Quote: I really like the recommendation about researchers peer-reviewing proposed procedures.

I don't. If you read the article, the problem more or less is that no one gave enough of a damn to stop this guy. Given that he had already ignored *explicit instructions* as to how much of this stuff he should make, as well as various other rules and regulations, how would another bit of regulatory frippery have helped? He could have gotten approval to make 200mg of the stuff and then made 10g anyway, while wasting additional hours of everyone's time in the review process; and also (importantly) creating a false sense that controls were in place to make everything safe.
In my opinion it is a sign of systemic failure that no heads rolled over this. When responsibility becomes so diffuse that you can have an accident of this nature and not have someone fired within a few weeks, then of course everyone's incentive is just to go along and get along, perhaps while not working too close to the crazy guy with the gram quantities of perchlorates. Why is the guy being allowed to finish his dissertation? Why does his adviser still have a job (tenure I guess...)? Why does the internal investigation impute failures to entities like 'the chemistry department' rather than specific individuals? When the issue is that someone is allowed to flout rules and common sense, adding another set of rules is not a good response.
Chainhit222
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I think he was just dumb for making 10g of a primary explosive.

The practice of storing bottles of milk or beer in laboratory refrigerators is to be strongly condemned encouraged
-Vogels Textbook of Practical Organic Chemistry
Rosco Bodine
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Darwin Award contestant stories abound too sadly even for what ought to be intelligent and educated people who have an inexplicable talent sometimes for doing the damnedest most stupidass things. And this particular truth is stranger than fiction / believe it or not / "genius at work" story has already and recently been posted in this forum.

Furthermore if anyone doubts that even supposedly intelligent and educated people somehow rarely do stupidass things in full public view, including trying to defend and even redefine reality when called to account of themselves, then to fully establish the truth of this matter all anyone needs to do is to give a bit of time to reading the text of some of the laws and regulations and judicial decisions which have been inflicted upon humanity by its illustrious leaders whom we should not seek to emulate by any similar stupidity of our own.

Common sense is something that no diploma even a doctorate conveys, a person is either born with common sense or they simply don't have it. Indeed life is filled with measured risks and ambiguity, but for the past six years or so in particular there seems to be a curiously intensified strain of dysgenic stupidity and devolution which has expressed itself in disturbing ways as if some kind of inbreeding had taken its toll on the "royals" who would be at the the top of the social order, and the world has suffered for it. Some new blood is needed and that "herd" of specimens which presently exists needs to be culled.
DDTea
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I guess I didn't make the point of this thread clear

There are general suggestions for procedures, storage, and transportation of novel explosive compounds, and I thought they might be useful to people here.

For example, I see posts on this forum along the lines of, "Is this synthesis safe?" Maybe, but safety also depends a lot on the operator's technique and there are countless variables that can be introduced by that alone. I think good responses to such posts would include suggestions for safe work. It looks like the *best* suggestion in this particular article was to keep quantities below 100 mg if the goal is just characterization, and then to scale up *slowly* once one is familiar. That is to say, starting off making gram quantities of an unknown explosive material can be asking for trouble.

[Edited on 10-3-10 by DDTea]

"In the end the proud scientist or philosopher who cannot be bothered to make his thought accessible has no choice but to retire to the heights in which dwell the Great Misunderstood and the Great Ignored, there to rail in Olympic superiority at the folly of mankind." - Reginald Kapp.
psychokinetic
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It's a shame he didn't lose his testicles.

Not following explicit instructions when dealing with dangerous things? That's a Darwin.

“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
-Tesla
entropy51
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 Quote: Originally posted by psychokinetic It's a shame he didn't lose his testicles. Not following explicit instructions when dealing with dangerous things? That's a Darwin.
Harsh! But he's in very good company. Davy, Faraday, Gay-Lussac, Bunsen, Mossain ......

I suppose I'm a little surprised that the lab in question even allowed the presence of a mortar and pestle.
Engager
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Actually this kind of error is common, especially with amateur chemists. Many people consider wet explosives to be safe and many of those actually are, but many other sensitive materials exist witch can explode even underwater (Examples: lead and silver azides, 5-nitrotetrazolates) some can explode then wet (Examples: PETN, acetone peroxide and others). One should consider that moisture only decreases sensitivity it does not render material harmless. One good example i've heard personally was about one student from my university, who taken a batch of sodium azide from the lab and made some copper azide at home. Prep was successful and he was filtered it, considering it to be harmless then wet. Then he was placing material for drying he decided to look for crystal shape and taken small crystal by his arm attempting to examine it by close view, crystal was brittle and broken from his fingers and particles produced by explosion initiated whole batch of material laying on table below. Violent explosion torn away two fingers.

Rosco Bodine
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On a scale of 1 to 10 for stupid, manually grinding a primary explosive using a mortar and pestle is an 11. Now on exactly what planet are such people as would "think" that such a thing is okay to do ? Earth is the planet on which I reside, and in several decades of reading about various accidents, the scenario described is about as stupid a thing as I have ever read about.

A "graduate student" reportedly did this ? Find out from what school was that graduation and seriously review the accreditation for that institution, maybe evaluate its prospects for conversion into an insane asylum.
The WiZard is In
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 Quote: Originally posted by Rosco Bodine On a scale of 1 to 10 for stupid, manually grinding a primary explosive using a mortar and pestle is an 11. Now on exactly what planet are such people as would "think" that such a thing is okay to do ? Earth is the planet on which I reside, and in several decades of reading about various accidents, the scenario described is about as stupid a thing as I have ever read about. A "graduate student" reportedly did this ? Find out from what school was that graduation and seriously review the accreditation for that institution, maybe evaluate its prospects for conversion into an insane asylum.

Pestle". Granted he was criticized for posting what some
considered useless information because they could of

DDTea
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Quote: Originally posted by The WiZard is In
 Quote: Originally posted by Rosco Bodine On a scale of 1 to 10 for stupid, manually grinding a primary explosive using a mortar and pestle is an 11. Now on exactly what planet are such people as would "think" that such a thing is okay to do ? Earth is the planet on which I reside, and in several decades of reading about various accidents, the scenario described is about as stupid a thing as I have ever read about. A "graduate student" reportedly did this ? Find out from what school was that graduation and seriously review the accreditation for that institution, maybe evaluate its prospects for conversion into an insane asylum.

Pestle". Granted he was criticized for posting what some
considered useless information because they could of

You're still aren't understanding why I started this thread. I'm not starting a thread to say, "lulz this guy was a dumbass. Let's talk about that." I'm starting it because there was good commentary in this particular article about ways to work with uncharacterized explosives. Since there are members in the amateur science community who enjoy working with explosives, I thought that these suggestions might be useful to them and could get them thinking about ways to approach their hobby with more discipline and safety so that they can have longer careers.

So, let me list the suggestions from the article:

-Explosive materials should be stored in an explosion-proof safe.

 Quote: Energetic materials experts also say that peer review is common in labs synthesizing particularly dangerous materials. “The worker would write up the proposed reaction, and another approved worker would review the work with special emphasis on safety,” says James R. Stine, a former high-energy-explosives group leader at LANL who is now retired.

-If you're going to be working on a potentially hazardous protocol, why not run it by some members here on SM for second opinions?

-There were several references to blast shields. This is something that could probably be built. For protecting one's eyes, though, typical splash-resistant goggles won't cut it with explosives. I'd go for impact-resistant shooting glasses; some of those can stop a .22 round.

 Quote: "Under typical circumstances, 50 to 100 mg of a compound would be enough to fully characterize material with methods such as spark tests, flame tests, pressure hammer tests, and infrared spectroscopy, the police report says."

 Quote: "Even after researchers demonstrate proficiency, however, the first rule of handling energetic materials is to keep quan­tities low, says Michael A. Hiskey, who formerly synthesized explosives at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and now runs pyrotechnics company DMD Systems."

Really, for lab tests, there just isn't a need to synthesize huge batches of energetic materials. If you want to prepare large amounts so that you can set them off, then that's a different ballgame altogether.

[Edited on 10-4-10 by DDTea]

"In the end the proud scientist or philosopher who cannot be bothered to make his thought accessible has no choice but to retire to the heights in which dwell the Great Misunderstood and the Great Ignored, there to rail in Olympic superiority at the folly of mankind." - Reginald Kapp.
The WiZard is In
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 Quote: Originally posted by DDTea You're still aren't understanding why I started this thread. I'm not starting a thread to say, "lulz this guy was a dumbass. Let's talk about that." I'm starting it because there was good commentary in this particular article about ways to work with uncharacterized explosives. Since there are members in the amateur science community who enjoy working with explosives, I thought that these suggestions might be useful to them and could get them thinking about ways to approach their hobby with more discipline and safety so that they can have longer careers.

[snip]

To summarizer a library of information on working with
energetic materials.....

"It is essential that persons having explosive
substances under their charge should never
lose sight of the conviction that, preventive
measures should always be prescribed
on the hypothesis of an explosion."

I am remiss in that I cannot bring to mind the source
of this quotation.

----
Byda stored in an explosion proof safe. Ahhhh
most use a magazine, which is not intended/required to be
explosion proof

http://www.atf.gov/explosives/how-to/explosive-storage-requi...

for example.

The WiZard is In
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 Quote: Originally posted by The WiZard is In To summarize a library of information on working with energetic materials..... "It is essential that persons having explosive substances under their charge should never lose sight of the conviction that, preventive measures should always be prescribed on the hypothesis of an explosion." I am remiss in that I cannot bring to mind the source of this quotation.

Quote dobe from :—

EXPLOSIVES AND THEIR POWER.
TRANSLATED AND CONDENSED FROM THE FRENCH OF
M. BERTHELOT
By C. NAPIER HAKE, FELLOW OF THE INSTITUTE OF CHEMISTRY,
INSPECTOR OF EXPLOSIVES TO THE GOVERNMENT OF VICTORIA;
And WILLIAM MACNAB, FELLOW OF THE INSTITUTE OF
CHEMISTRY.
WITH A PREFACE BY LIEUT.-COLONEL J. P. CUNDILL, R.A., H.M.
INSPECTOR OF EXPLOSIVES.
1892

I own a photocopy you can DL yours from Google.com/books.

NB — This is not a how-to-do-it book.
Rosco Bodine
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An overload protected bullshit detector is a good thing to have too, since the reading on its scale can be expected to be over ranging from time to time.
franklyn
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Ever notice the palm prints next to the sign that say's " Wet Paint " ?
Just because you can read , doesn't mean you can retain.
" Look what happened to him " anecdotes do not convey good practice ,
neither does the BATF ( how many people do you know that stockpile tons ).
Bureaucratic measures in institutional settings which review each step before
permission is granted to proceed , work - in the Navy. This cannot supplant one's
own commitment to abide by a pre-flight checklist. Learning to fly without regard
for how to land , is the hallmark of someone suicidally reckless.

Two hundred years ago incidents of this kind are understandable given this
was then still the age of enlightenment and consequently ignorance abounded.
The salient observation I make in this thread elucidated by " The WiZard is In "
is that 80 years later the very same lesson was being rediscovered in exactly
the same way. Flash forward to the present day and nothing has changed !

The Life of Reason : The Phases of Human Progress by George Santayana ( 1905 )
Volume 1 Reason in Common Sense text page 284 , 2nd paragraph
" Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santayana

" An hour in the library sometimes saves hours and days of work in the lab,
but it can also save extremities."

.
The WiZard is In
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Safety mas

If the 1892 —

It is essential that persons having explosive
substances under their charge should never
lose sight of the conviction that, preventive
measures should always be prescribed
on the hypothesis of an explosion.

doesn't work for you I will supply the 2010 version —

Shit happens.

Reverting to my analogue mode I would suggest some
reading. This is not meant to be extensive - I just happen
to own these :—

Explosives, Propellants and Pyrotechnic Safety Covering
Laboratory, Pilot Plant, and Production Operations.
US Naval Ordnance Laboratory, White Oak, MA
NOLTR 61
20 October 1961
[Free DL]

A Safe Practices Manual for the Manufacturing, Transportation
Storage and Use of Explosives
Prepared for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
1978
PB-297827
[DL ? / NTIS ]

DOE Explosives Safety Manual
DOE M 440 1-1A
9 January 1996
465 pages
[Free DL]

Think Big

RA Scott, Jr & LJ Doemery Eds.
Design Considerations for Toxic Chemical and Explosive Facilities
ACS Symposium 345
ACS 1987

T Yoshhida & et al
Safety of Reactive Chemicals and Pyrotechnics
Elsevier 1995

T Yoshida
Safety of Reactive Chemicals
Elsevier 1987

T Grewer
Thermal Hazards of Chemical Reactions
Elsevier 1994

And for what happens when things go seriously wrong.

Ralph Assheton, compiled by.
History of Explosions on Which the American Table of Distances
was Based, Including Other Explosions of Large Quantities of
Explosives
IME 1930

djh
----
An explosion may be defined as a loud noise
accompanied by the sudden going away of
things from the places where they were before.

Joseph Needham

Rosco Bodine
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Anybody have the true statistics concerning how many traffic accidents occur where the driver at fault was a police officer ? How about the statistics involving fatalities attributable to one or another kinds of "human error" by a supposedly highly skilled and trained professional ? Maybe we should examine the statistics for accidents where the most responsible party was found to be the person acting in whatever responsiblity or role at the time of the incident was also as a practical matter functionally responsible and acting as the primary safety officer.

Shit happens. Indeed it does. Human beings fuck up with disturbing regularity.

Well regulated safety is the blue pill. It does however have its own toxic side effects.

The WiZard is In
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 Quote: Originally posted by Rosco Bodine Anybody have the true statistics concerning how many traffic accidents occur where the driver at fault was a police officer ? How about the statistics involving fatalities attributable to one or another kinds of "human error" by a supposedly highly skilled and trained professional ? Maybe we should examine the statistics for accidents where the most responsible party was found to be the person acting in whatever responsiblity or role at the time of the incident was also as a practical matter functionally responsible and acting as the primary safety officer. Shit happens. Indeed it does. Human beings fuck up with disturbing regularity. Well regulated safety is the blue pill. It does however have its own toxic side effects. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VFDIKgm_QI

The majority of airplane crashes are attributed to pilot error.
That said - if you crash your plane/car/boat assuming you were
not on drugs/drinking you have a paperwork problem. If you
blow yourself up .... there is a good possibility of being
taken out in handcuffs. Then finding the authorities looking
where the sun don't shine with microscopes.

Reminds me of someone I knew who making a whistling titanium
rocket in his basement ignited it. Burning their hand — setting
5-pounds of black powder stored in the overhead alight —
bulging out the houses walls.

I rang him up in hospital ... Who called the police/fire department?
All my neighbours.

How are you getting along?
I am handcuffed to the bed.

Strangely their insurance company would not pay for the damage
to his house.

Ultimately he paid a fine.

Don't be knowing what their lawyer charged.
Rosco Bodine
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Mr. Smith is such a scary fellow it seems to be the one constant theme .....

regardless of whether one chooses the red pill or the blue
franklyn
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 Quote: Originally posted by DDTea " make no more than 100 mg "

It is a pronounced deviation to say

 Quote: Originally posted by The WiZard is In " Think Big "

The first item cited has applicable advice.

Explosives, Propellants and Pyrotechnic Safety Covering
Laboratory, Pilot Plant, and Production Operations.

redirects to :

I'll tell you a secret, when you search databases by Accession Number be aware that
ADA272424 searched in http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/search/tr/index.html yields no record.
The same ADA272424 searched in http://www.ntis.gov/search/index.aspx
( where you would have to find it to order ) yields an entirely different publication.
It must be entered with a zero after the AD, thus : AD0272424
Search this substituted Accession Number AD0272424 in http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/search/tr/index.html
and it does yield the publication.
Searching the substituted Accession Number in http://www.ntis.gov/search/index.aspx
now yields no record.

.
The WiZard is In
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US universities' lab safety under new scrutiny

24 October 2011

US universities are under pressure to significantly step up safety at chemistry labs, following new findings and recommendations from the Chemical Safety Board (CSB). The board, which is an independent government agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents, is 'greatly concerned' about the frequency of academic lab incidents in the US and is calling for an overhaul.

The CSB's observations and recommendations are laid out in a recent case study report, which details a January 2010 lab accident at Texas Tech University (TTU) that led to a graduate student losing three fingers, perforating an eye and sustaining significant burns. The incident occurred when the grad student and a colleague were working with a new compound, a derivative of nickel hydrazine perchlorate, and it detonated when they were scaling up synthesis............>

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2011/October/24101101...
quicksilver
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Hydrazine fumes can result in necrosis of the eye, so I wonder if the fellow was wearing goggles (maybe he was and he REALLY scaled up that synthesis!) - One of the things that's difficult is the level of specificity in reporting of this nature. If the individual has all his safety gear in place, that must have been a really serious bang to knock three fingers and loose an eye. It would almost seem like he held the sample up to view it further when it exploded.

Rosco Bodine
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Lab smarts is a good way to keep from becoming lab dead just like street smarts is a good way to keep from becoming street dead, and so on with the continuum of scenarios where situational awareness improves mission survivability for mission members .....duh who woulda thunk it I mean that sort of stuff is as basic as do you think persons who drive automobiles should first learn how to drive an automobile before being handed the keys and told hey anybody can do it, figure it out as you go ....now then, just go for it. Dittos for aircraft pilots.

What the world doesn't need is chainsaws with rubber blades being mandated, just because there was once a Texas chainsaw massacre.

We all don't come from Texas.
gutter_ca
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CSB Video that deals with Texas Tech, UCLA, and a Dartmouth accident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALBWxGik64A

/cool story, bro

ETA: Woohoo! Hazard to Self!

[Edited on 10/28/2011 by gutter_ca]
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 Sciencemadness Discussion Board » Special topics » Energetic Materials » Learning from Others' Mistakes: Explosion at Texas Tech Select A Forum Fundamentals   » Chemistry in General   » Organic Chemistry   » Reagents and Apparatus Acquisition   » Beginnings   » Responsible Practices   » Miscellaneous   » The Wiki Special topics   » Technochemistry   » Energetic Materials   » Biochemistry   » Radiochemistry   » Computational Models and Techniques   » Prepublication Non-chemistry   » Forum Matters   » Legal and Societal Issues