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 http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/localnews/ci_5302298 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 squad. 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 Street. 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 side. It has been banned nationwide in college labs because it is so explosive. 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 received. 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 awoodall**At_Symbol_Here**angnewspapers.com.
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