Date: Thu, 4 Aug 2011 15:42:04 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: Kim Auletta <kauletta**At_Symbol_Here**NOTES.CC.SUNYSB.EDU>
Subject: Re: Recent Accidents in College Level and beyond Chemistry Lab
In-Reply-To: <5A35BD57-F1D5-4373-BEA0-ACB04D220880**At_Symbol_Here**>
Yeah! Bravo! I'll help when you get it going! I truly believe this 
information should be available to everyone. There is no proprietary 
safety info, especially when it comes to training new students.

Kim Auletta
Lab Safety Specialist
EH&S    Z=6200
Stony Brook University
FAX: 631-632-9683
EH&S Web site:

Remember to wash your hands!

From:   ILPI 
To:     DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Date:   08/04/2011 03:32 PM
Subject:        Re: [DCHAS-L] Recent Accidents in College Level and beyond 
Chemistry Lab
Sent by:        DCHAS-L Discussion List 

For well over ten years now, I've envisioned a web-based tool in which a 
researcher could input their chemicals/procedure and get output that 
recommends PPE, warns about incompatibilities, recommends waste disposal 
procedures, finds alternatives, displays accident data, etc. etc.   My 
baby step in that direction was the Material Safety Data Sheet 
Demystifier:   And extends the ideas originally developed 
in the MS-Demystifier.

Of course, to extrapolate to the tool I describe would require tremendous 
effort.   The Chemical Safety Headlines From GoogleŠ that get posted to 
this list give an insight into just how difficult it can be to have a 
computer collate and digest information.   Ralph has set up a Google feed 
that scans for keywords and collects the articles.  That then gets run 
through an ever-growing JavaScript that I wrote to make a first guess at 
tagging the keywords in the article.  Those then get a manual review 
before they are collected and sent off the list.  While the parsing 
algorithms work well for what they are, there is always some 
wording/construction/meaning that the code has not anticipated, so I'm 
constantly tweaking it.  For example, when we look to see whether the 
incident involved injury or death, it's not as simple as looking for 
keywords.  The article might say "no one was injured" or "chemical X can 
cause death" and the code needs to recognize not to raise the Injury or 
Death flag for those kinds of constructions.   Even for something as basic 
as the location, the algorithm does its best to determine where the 
incident occurred by looking first for a proper article byline (rare), 
scanning the text of the article for the state (which can fail as we had 
the other day with an incident in the city of Indiana, Pennsylvania), and 
the URL itself (but a Boston newspaper may be reporting on an incident in 
a bordering state), etc.

Still, once trained, the system works fairly well.  My experience so far 
indicates that with correctly parsed information this kind of safety 
wizard can be built.  The way to achieve that most effectively and 
affordably (safety information should not be out of the reach of schools 
that can not afford an expensive subscription) is through a wiki system. 
Wikis are web-based frameworks that let users contribute to the content, 
as in WIkipedia.  By having members of the chemistry/safety community 
contribute (anonymously or otherwise) to a chemical safety system, we do 
not have to rely on search engine logic.  And when we want to have the 
system make recommendations, those should be fairly accurate because the 
information will have been rigorously parsed by humans.

If the chemical community (presumably under the aegis of the ACS) could 
establish a chemical safety wiki, it would provide the necessary central 
resource for the tool I described above.  Imagine a system where you could 
input n-butyllithium and not only get the usual sources of safety 
information (Bretherick etc.) but be able to view a list of laboratory 
incidents/injuries/deaths, handling procedures from Aldrich's web site, 
links to safety videos, reports on the AIHA site, old DCHAS post, 
titration methods etc.  Truly comprehensive and *relevant* information 
without having to do an extensive web/literature search.

This is doable today.  It needs a commitment, a back-end database, and a 
core of volunteers to get it off the ground.  The wiki nature makes it 

Rob Toreki

Safety Emporium - Lab & Safety Supplies featuring brand names
you know and trust.  Visit us at
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Fax: (856) 553-6154, PO Box 1003, Blackwood, NJ 08012

On Aug 4, 2011, at 12:03 PM, Margaret Rakas wrote:

Thanks to Ralph's ability to comb through and present a wide variety of 
chemical accidents from around the globe, we frequently have access to 
first reports about accidents in academic institutions.  However, it is 
relatively rare that these present the kind of information that would help 
improve chemical safety at other institutions, because chemical names are 
omitted or mangled, full details of the type of process occurring aren't 
included (may not be known at the time of publication), etc.  And 
follow-up disclosures frequently are quite difficult to find:  they either 
don't happen, aren't published (who really wants to read about yesterday's 
news, especially when it's the dry topic of a chemical accident that isn't 
otherwise sensational), or otherwise don't surface.  I am sure the 
incidents reported to C&E News are a small fraction of what has gone wrong 
in labs, although I am very grateful to the writers and editors for taking 
the time and space to make colleagues aware.
I have no desire to make any researcher, at any level or institution, 
'look bad'.  I also understand the reluctance of the institution's PR and 
legal offices to release details that they feel compromise the 
institution.  But I would really hope the Councillors would discuss the 
implementation of an anonymous reporting system that would include the 
details, because for some incidents, that is the only way to understand 
you may have a problem at your own instititution--it just (luckily) hasn't 
happened yet.  I think it is also important to realize these academic 
chemical incidents don't just happen in chemical departments; biologists, 
neuroscientists, and engineers use hazardous materials above and beyond 
the standard corrosives and flammables, and those of us who work in 
academic safety need to know about incidents and near-misses in those 
areas as well, so we can warn our researchers. 
My personal opinion only, not legal or business advice, and may not 
represent the opinion of my employer or any group to which I belong..

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