Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2007 13:07:09 -0500
Reply-To: List Moderator <esf**At_Symbol_Here**UVM.EDU>
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From: List Moderator <esf**At_Symbol_Here**UVM.EDU>
Subject: College's workers apparently transporting chemicals without being
told proper procedures
Comments: To: SAFETY

Interesting story for a variety of reasons... particularly the  
statement that
"Picric acid ... been banned nationwide in college labs because it is  
so explosive.

- Ralph

Ohlone looks into hazardous situations
College's workers apparently transporting chemicals without being  
told proper procedures

By Angela Woodall, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
Article Last Updated:02/25/2007 02:35:18 AM PST

FREMONT  When Ohlone College worker Willie Gallegos got an order to  
pick up a bottle of acid from a campus building, he had no idea the  
contents were so volatile they would have to be detonated by a bomb  

Gallegos, a pool maintenance worker at the college, had no training  
or equipment for handling hazardous materials. Still, he routinely  
transported them for five years from campus labs to a small wood  
storage shed next to the maintenance building at the foot of Pine  

Now, the college is changing its policies and the incident is under  
investigation by the state's job-safety watchdog.

People who transport hazardous materials need to know what they are  
handling and the proper procedures, said Dean Fryer, spokesman for  
the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which  
enforces state occupational and public safety laws.

For six months, 25 grams of partially crystallized picric acid sat in  
the shed  putting maintenance workers in danger  although state  
regulations require chemicals be stored in a secure, climate- 
controlled environment.

Gallegos said the acid still remained in the shed 24 hours after he  
warned his supervisors that the picric acid could be deadly.

The same procedures were used in the handling of other chemicals on  
campus, most of which are not volatile, Ohlone President Doug  
Treadway said.

The state agency has launched an investigation into Ohlone's policies  
and procedures for handling hazardous materials  which existed but  
weren't widely known or followed, Vice President Deanna Walston said.

Walston is drawing up new policies that include mandatory training  
and regular, thorough inventories.

Picric acid was mainly responsible for the deadly 1917 Halifax  
explosion of the ship Mont-Blanc in Nova Scotia, Canada, which killed  
2,000 people, injured another 9,000 and caused a wave that washed up  
as high as 60 feet above the harbor's high-water mark on the Halifax  

It has been banned nationwide in college labs because it is so  

Still, Gallegos was sent in August to pick up the picric acid left  
behind by a retired engineering professor several years ago and found  
in a storage cupboard.

The neutralizing solution in which the acid was kept, which would  
have made it a stable form called picral, had evaporated, and the  
acid was classified as combustible on the disposal order Gallegos  

Gallegos then transported it in a pickup truck across campus,  
although temperature or shock could have made it explode.

Gallegos learned this after an employee of Decon Environmental, the  
company Ohlone College hired to dispose of hazardous materials,  
arrived for the twice-annual collection on Feb. 5.

The Decon employee "got the hell out of the building. He couldn't  
believe it was there," Gallegos recalled.

Gallegos said he alerted David Orias, a building and grounds manager,  
but was ignored. It was another day before the Fremont Fire  
Department was called in to remove it. Instead, firefighters called  
in the Alameda County Bomb Squad, which detonated it near the tennis  
courts. The blast shook the campus and set off car alarms.

Orias did not respond to repeated attempts by The Argus to contact  
him in person, by phone and by e-mail. The head of maintenance, Simon  
Barros, also refused to comment.

Gallegos had protested numerous times in the past about handling  
hazardous materials, disposal orders showed.

But he had no idea how dangerous the picric acid was, in part because  
maintenance staff hadn't been appropriately trained.

Facility managers saw transport as the janitors' duty because it was  
in their job description  "whether right or wrong," Walston said.

"That is not a justification for not having training," she added.

The only chemicals Gallegos and the lead custodian are specifically  
required to handle are pool chemicals, according to copies of their  
job descriptions.

Ohlone has launched its own internal review of the incident and  
managerial actions leading up to and related to it, Treadway said,  
adding that he was not aware of the specific allegations Gallegos  
made about his supervisors and objections to handling the hazardous  
material until Friday morning.

In addition, the storage shed has been relocated and will be removed  
completely if not in compliance with state safety standards, Treadway  
said. Staff members also have been notified that only lab technicians  
are responsible for handling hazardous materials, he added.

On Feb. 7, Gallegos was given a five-day paid leave of absence to  
recover from the scare.

"I was shocked at what I had been carrying," Gallegos said. "Everyone  
is just happy I'm alive."

Staff writer Angela Woodall covers Newark, Ohlone College and  
Washington Hospital. She can be reached at (510) 353-7004 or at  

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