Date: Mon, 25 Apr 2011 14:20:49 -0400
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From: "David C. Finster" <dfinster**At_Symbol_Here**WITTENBERG.EDU>
Subject: Re: Chemical Safety headlines from Google
In-Reply-To: <FF70A3D197478C4A8E079799AD76FBEC11884C3B29**At_Symbol_Here**>

nk=purple style='word-wrap: break-word;-webkit-nbsp-mode: space;-webkit -line-break: after-white-space'>

I, too, was puzzled (and somewhat amused, since the situation was not life-thr eatening) at this hazmat response.


·         The ability of the hazmat team to function on scene depends upon what instrumentation t hey have.  They might have had a “four gas/ PID” instrumen t that measures O2, combustibles organics, and then two more (of C O, H2S, SO2, NO, NO2, Cl2, HCN, NH3, PH3 ).   The device can meas ure concentration of a long of list of combustible organics IF you know wha t the compound is.  These devices do not identify substances, but can measure concentrations of known substances.   Sometimes emergency responders have good information about “what is leaking” based on reliable local information and/or DOT placards and such.

< /p>

Another common device would b e portable IR detection units that can samples gases, liquids, or solids.    While these devices can identify compounds (from spectral match with libraries) I don’t’ think that they can handle mixtu res. 

(Sm all fire departments without a “hazmat team” would not have eit her of the devices described above.  At best, they will have a simple four-gas meter; probably:  O2, combustible gases, CO, and H2S.)

Since the “fume s” from chilis would be a complicated gas mixture neither of the devi ces above would be able to identify the “gas.”    The term “organic” in this news report would have been better replaced by “mixture”, and chemists know that these are hardly interchangeable terms.  I do not know of any portable hazmat instrume nts that could handle mixtures; I assume that a portable GC-MS would be the preferred tool here and I don’t know if that is part of a hazmat con stellation of detection devices. 

In the episode described in the new report, the experienced human nose (preferably with culinary training!) would be t he preferred detection device although hazmat folks and other emergency res ponders are trained NOT to use the nose for good reason:   the (u nknown) substance might be quite toxic or dangerous.    We a re trained to “stay upwind” and at a safe distance until the si tuation is better understood.  Of course, sometimes responders donR 17;t know what the situation is until they are on scene;  the informat ion we get in advance is only as good as the information from whomever call ed 911 and there is no way to assess what quality of that information in ad vance.  “There’s a funny odor in our neighborhood!”  So, sometimes “the nose” inadvertently becomes a detectio n device. 


David C. Finster
Professor, De partment of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Wittenberg University

(and Hazmat Technician, Dayto n Regional Hazardous Materials Team,

Saf ety Officer, Miami Township Fire-Rescue)



From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU] On Behalf Of Rita Kay Calhoun
Sent: Monday, April 25, 2011 10:14 AM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UV M.EDU
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Chemical Safety headlines from Googl e

Re: fumes caused by heating chilies.  

 “The Hazmat unit was unable to dete ct the cause of the fumes because it was organic…..”


< o:p> 

   I’m a bit at a loss.  I would crack a joke about the chilies being raised without th e use of pesticides, but the statement shows such a lack of understanding t hat it’s almost scary.  I hope it was the reporter that was clue less and not the people entrusted to make knowledgeable decisions about pot entially hazardous situations.

Kay Calhoun

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**list.uvm .edu] On Behalf Of Ralph Stuart
Sent: Monday, April 25, 20 11 8:25 AM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Chemical Safety headlines from Google

Links to det ails available at /u:dchas


RESIDENTS COUGH UP TO A CHILLI NIGHT , http://www.caseyweekly ght/2143005.aspx

< span style='font-size:9.0pt;font-family:"Helvetica","sans-serif"'>

A CRANBOURNE North resident cooking a box of chillis in an electric wok caused a chemical emergency whe n neighbours were overcome by fumes on Tuesday last week.

Five ambulances, a Cranbourne CFA unit and a Hazmat response vehicle from Dandenong CFA were called to Lawless Drive whe n about 10 residents were affected by the chilli fumes. The Hazmat unit was unable to detect the cause of the fumes because it was organic so a CFA cr ew was forced to rely on sniffing out the source.

Intensive care paramedic David Llewelyn said an ambulance arrived just bef ore 10.30pm to treat two men who were coughing and having trouble breathing , and more ambulances arrived as the number of affected people grew.

"We had up to 10 people who were coughing and were dizzy and nauseated." He said the fumes reached houses up to 150 metr es away.

"We decided to do a doorknock of other homes to make sure no one else had been overcome, while the CFA worke d to find the source of the fumes. It emerged someone was roasting strong c hillies in the backyard and that's what caused the fumes."

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